Can Exercise and Physical Activity Help Prevent Depression?

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Approaching the conundrum of whether depression leads to inactivity or if inactivity causes depression, the facts speak for themselves: Exercise is beneficial to both psychological and physical health[1].

The effects of being physically active both prevent and improve a number of health conditions including lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, reducing anxiety and improving mood.

Exercise seems to help depression
Does exercise help prevent depression?

The Research Backs This Up

The statistics show us that one in ten adults in the U.S. is dealing with the effects of depression and likely to be on antidepressant medications[2]. While more research is necessary to identify all the contributing factors that either cause or alleviate the effects of depression, studies have shown that physical activity is recognized as a useful tool in treatment.

The University of Toronto conducted a review of research cases[3] that showed how moderate exercise played a role in preventing episodes of depression over time. Of the 30 studies analyzed, 25 cases demonstrated how baseline physical exercise boosts happiness and lowers the risk of depression.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry[4] also spotlights the case for exercise in treating depression. Researchers found convincing evidence using genetic data from over 600,000 adults who enrolled in multiple genomic studies. A clinical and research fellow in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital, Karmel Choi is more convinced that physical activity plays a causal role in reducing the risk for depression.

While genetics can play a role in a person’s odds of being depressed, moderate exercise both treats and prevents depression regardless of individual predispositions. Moderate physical activity may be as little as 20 minutes a day. The conclusion of this research shows it is worth noting that if you are currently active, stay that way. If you are not physically active, it is time to initiate the habit.

Woman stretching before workout

Why Doctors Believe Exercise and Physical Activity Help Prevent Depression

The health benefits of low-intensity exercise sustained over time is all-encompassing in a cascading effect[5]. The natural response of releasing endorphins, the feel-good hormones in the brain, improves sleep, helps protect against diabetes and heart disease and can lower blood pressure.

Exercise releases growth factors that assist in the development of nerve cells. Another positive effect is the proof that the hippocampus, the body’s mood regulator in the brain, while smaller in depressed people, grows larger when exercise promoted nerve cell growth start building new connections.

Exercise is the Best Thing You Can Do For You

The best part is engaging the metabolism. While not noticeable overnight, when your metabolism is humming at the level it will from regular exercise, the beautiful side effect is weight loss. It is true that a body in motion stays in motion.

All that means is that if you can at least start a routine, whether it is 20 minutes a day, three days a week, or something more energetic perhaps even getting up and getting moving every day, once you start that routine, your whole body responds by getting in gear. You can feel the positive effects even if you skip a day when you have made it a regular routine.

Tips on Incorporating Exercise and Physical Activity as a Daily Routine

If you are already active, good for you and keep that up. If you want yet to get started being active whether you are feeling overwhelmed by the effects of depression or you might be feeling the side effects of antidepressant medications including the possibility of weight gain, relax. It’s alright. It takes less than you think to get started.

Start with walking. If you need someone to crack the whip, take a dog with you. They are good about meeting up with you the same time every day for the walk and it means you don’t have to go alone. Resistance training such as weight-lifting is as effective as CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Riding a bicycle back and forth to work when it is not too far from home will produce positive effects on your very first day. Joining your kids in the park for tennis, baseball or basketball not only helps solidify a family bond, but it also gives you an exercise outlet. Just about any type of workout from cardio to yoga have proven to lessen the symptoms of depression.

The difference between building a routine and falling back into that space on the couch shaped like you is truly night and day. Bring the bright light of a better mood into your existence by either maintaining or starting your exercise routine. Gain confidence, reach new goals no matter how big or small, feel better about your appearance, increase your stamina and cope in a healthy way. The more you do, the more you can do as your body naturally responds to physical activity. You can really impress yourself in more ways than you could have imagined.

Group fitness workout
Fitness women and determined men exercising with kettlebell at gym. Group of young people doing a kettle bell exercise with squatting. Multiethnic group doing crouch exercise while holding weight.