Exercise gets the brain firing mood-boosting chemicals
While the exact cause of depression is still not fully understood, research has found that serotonin, a neurotransmitter (or chemical) found in the body, strongly affects your mood. Regular exercise may also increase levels of brain serotonin, as well as levels of endorphins in the brain, which have ‘mood-boosting’ effects.
Both aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, cycling or jogging) and resistance or strength training (including body weight exercises and lifting weights) have been found to be helpful in treating depression and alleviating low mood.
If you’re lacking energy in the morning, immediate exercise or gentle movement after getting out of bed can be beneficial.
The flow-on effect
By increasing your exercise, you will be improving other aspects of your life. Not only does serotonin regulate mood, it also has a role in your sleep, libido, appetite and other functions.
Regular exercise may protect against the development of depression and alleviate its symptoms by increasing your energy levels, improving your sleep, distracting you from worries, and helping to reduce loneliness if you exercise with other people.
In addition to being helpful for managing depression, regular exercise has numerous physical health benefits. These benefits include the prevention of numerous (including life threatening) medical conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, strokes and certain types of cancer.
A little goes a long way
Research by the Black Dog Institute has found that just one hour of exercise a week can help prevent up to 12% of depression cases.
This result means that relatively small amounts of exercise can deliver significant protection against depression. While researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly why exercise can have this protective effect, it is understood that the combination of physical activity and social benefits deliver mental health benefits.
Exercise helps you connect with others
Many healthcare professionals around the world are advocating for activities like exercise to form part of a holistic management program for mental health issues.
Also known as “social prescribing”, exercise programs are now being prescribed by doctors as a way to increase self-esteem, confidence and improve social and psychological wellbeing for those with mental health issues.
Countries like the UK and Canada are leading the way in this field, but it is certainly gaining momentum in Australia. Many Australian healthcare professionals are adopting this method to offer people with depression help beyond typical therapy and medication.
Helps you set goals and kickstart your motivation
When you kick goals (no matter how big or small) you feel more motivated and empowered. It gives you a greater sense of control and self-esteem because you are proactively taking charge of your own wellbeing.
Research shows that people who have a genuine interest in achieving their goals are more likely to reach them than if they hadn’t set a goal at all. And if your goal is specific and not vague, you are even more likely to reach your target.
Not sure how to set your own exercise goals?
- Think SMART. Think about goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Keeping this top of mind will increase the chances of you sticking to your plan.
- Make sure you undertake activity that you truly enjoy. Think about the things that make you happy, such as walking and talking with a friend, taking your dog for a walk or participating in team sports.
- Plan your week. Look for opportunities to do small amounts of exercise each day to help you reach your goal of one hour of exercise a week.
- Shake up your usual routine: Even if you start with 10 minutes of physical activity a day, change how you move to get more active. Take the stairs instead of the lift at work, get off the bus or train one stop earlier than usual, or spend 10 minutes walking during your lunch break.
- Make a date: Exercise is much more fun with someone else. Make a date with a friend, colleague or family member to spend an hour exercising together. Take a walk, go bike-riding or head to your local park.
To get involved or to learn more about the Exercise Your Mood campaign, visit: www.exerciseyourmood.org.au