Exercise Can Effectively Fight Depression and Reduce Symptoms, Finds New Study

According to a new study, exercise effectively combats depression and reduces symptoms.

Depression and Exercise
According to new research, exercising 150 minutes per week can help reduce your risk of depression. According to research, your risk can be reduced by up to 25%. Even a small amount of exercise, according to experts, can improve your mental health.

Read why 10 minutes of this workout is enough to get you in the best shape of your life. 

A new study on the effect of exercise on depression & anxiety. 

Exercise has long been advocated by mental health professionals as a strategy to improve your mood. An exciting new research study reveals that regular exercise may actually help to not just reduce depression, but actually prevent depression.

This outcome is the main finding of a recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers examined data from 15 studies that included 191,130 adults who were followed for at least three years. Researchers compared those who met the prescribed 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week versus those who did not.

According to the findings, persons who engaged in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week—such as biking, swimming, or brisk walking—had a 25% lower risk of depression than those who did not. Even half of the recommended weekly quantity had an effect: those who did it reduced their risk of depression by 18%.

This is astounding news. If you are someone (like me) who suffers from depression and anxiety, the ability to ‘turn down the volume’ on my symptoms by a double digit amount with just a moderate amount of exercise is something that I use daily to manage those feelings. It’s an amazing tool to have, and it’s really helped me. 

In their conclusion, the researchers concluded that the data "indicate significant mental health advantages from being physically active, even at levels below public health recommendations." They went on to say that "health practitioners should support any increase in physical activity to improve mental health."

How exercise can aid in the prevention of depression

Exercise produces endorphins

Although the study didn't look at why exercising can help prevent depression, experts have some theories.

According to Paul Coleman, Psy.D., author of ‘Finding Peace When Your Heart is in Pieces’, depression is normally treated with a mix of talk therapy and medications, although exercise has also been advocated as a lifestyle therapy.

"Exercise produces endorphins in the brain, which are feel-good molecules," he explains. "Depressed people also begin to believe that nothing they do can help them, so they become less active." Exercise is a means for us to convince ourselves, 'I can make a difference,' which boosts our confidence."

However, exercise has an effect on more than just endorphins. "Exercise affects serotonin, a mood neurotransmitter, as well as dopamine, a reward and motivation neurotransmitter," says Gail Saltz, M.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the iHeartRadio podcast ‘How Can I Help?’ Exercise also "increases body blood flow" and "increases the amount of oxygen to the brain," according to Dr. Saltz, which promotes the brain's ability to grow and change.

There are also "behavioural causes" for depression, according to Keith R. Stowell, M.D., chief medical officer of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. "Getting involved in a workout program might make you feel more productive and provide you with some structure," he explains. "All of those things contribute to a sense of satisfaction and success."

Exercise can support easing of depression

According to Hillary Ammon, Psy.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, exercise can "create opportunities for social connections, whether you're participating in a streaming fitness class, or discussing your workout routine with like-minded individuals online in a supportive group." Exercise can also be used as a “stress-reduction” approach, she adds.

According to clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of ‘Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life’, this isn't the only study to associate regular exercise with a lower chance of depression. He cites a 2019 Harvard study that indicated that persons who exercised at least three hours per week had a 17 percent lower risk of depression than those who were sedentary.

We were made to move. 

Exercise at home to help reduce depression

Coach Edith leading a strength training exercise as part of the 30 Beginner Bootcamp challenge series. Try a class here for free. 

"Over thousands of years, our bodies have evolved to be active, to move, and not to be sedentary," he explains. "We were made to move." As a result, we have an allostatic (the process by which the body responds to stressors) balance or load on the body, which movement—exercise—helps to maintain. The body's balance helps to align the mind and moods due to the direct connection between mind and body."

Clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., is a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the ‘Mind in View’ podcast. "We've had data for a long time that found that, with mild and moderate depression, exercise can be as effective as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor [a common medication used to treat depression]," she says. "The effect of exercise on the brain is really profound."

Any movement may have a huge impact on depression

Any movement may have a huge impact on depression

Coach Edith leads daily 10 minute workouts in the ‘Beginner Bootcamp.’ Try a class here for free. 

Any movement, according to David Klow, L.M.F.T., owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago and author of ‘You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist’, "may have a huge impact on your mood." "Even walking or running in a side-to-side alternating rhythm can help us feel more regulated," he explains. "Stagnant or stuck feelings may be exacerbated by inertia, or lingering in one place."

"Any action will do" to help reduce your risk of developing depression, according to Coleman, who adds that "it doesn't have to be heart-pumping, but something that gets the blood circulating."

When it comes to preventing depression, who can benefit from exercise?

According to Coleman, everyone can benefit from exercising to reduce their risk of depression. "Everyone benefits," he argues, "since most people report having everyday stress."

Dr. Stowell advises consulting your doctor first if you have physical restrictions or a health condition that makes regular exercise difficult. "This can definitely help people across all age spectrums," he says in general.

When it comes to exercise, Dr. Saltz advises doing what you can. "As this study shown, even 10 to 15 minutes of the right workout at a beginner level each day can improve mood," she says. "It's doable for most individuals." Don't let perfection be the enemy of good—some exercise is better than none, so sitting around because you can't run 10 miles, or do advanced workout routines for an hour isn't an excuse not to take advantage of the incredible benefits that come with exercise - my advice is to get into a beginner level program that is achievable at your current fitness level."

However, Gallagher emphasises that exercise should not be viewed as the only means of avoiding or treating depression. She explains, "I always remind individuals that following a balanced Meal Plan, sleeping the correct amount of hours, and exercising provide the foundation for excellent mental health." "However, it's ok if it takes a number of balanced approaches to help you manage your mental health."

What is depression?

What is depression?

Depression, often known as ‘major depressive disorder’, is a mental illness characterised by persistently gloomy thoughts and sensations.

According to the ‘National Institute of Mental Health’ (NIMH), people with depression may have the following symptoms:

- A Sad, nervous, or "empty" mood that persists
- Pessimism or a sense of hopelessness
- Irritability, frustration, or restlessness are common feelings.
- Guilt, a sense of worthlessness, or a sense of helplessness
- Loss of pleasure or interest in hobbies or activities
- Low energy, tiredness, or a sense of being "slowed down"
- Concentration, memory, or decision-making difficulties
- Sleep disturbances, early morning awakenings, or oversleeping
- Appetite shifts or unintentional weight gain
- Aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive difficulties that do not improve with treatment and have no obvious physical cause
- Suicide attempts, as well as thoughts of death or suicide, are common.

According to the ‘Anxiety & Depression Association of America’, depression affects more than 16.1 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent of the population aged 18 and up. I would argue that given recent world events, that number is incredibly optimistic. 

When should you consult a doctor if you're depressed?

Dr. Stowell advises that if you feel like you want to hurt yourself or have suicidal thoughts, you should get help right away.

To be diagnosed with depression, people must exhibit five symptoms of depression every day, practically all day, for at least two weeks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Consult your doctor if you believe you are suffering from depression. Your primary care physician may be able to diagnose and treat depression, or they may refer you to a mental health expert such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

"You should visit a professional if you're depressed and it's affecting your functioning," Dr. Stowell advises. "We all have bad days," she says, "but it's a problem when it's a recurring pattern that doesn't appear to get better over time."

And, according to Dr. Ammon, even if you're not sure if you're depressed, it's a good idea to speak up. "If you see a change in your mood or have concerns, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about them ahead of time," she says. "There is no inappropriate time to talk to your doctor about these concerns."

Exercise help & support. 

The Beginner Bootcamp Series

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I hope this article helps if you are someone, like me, who is challenged with depression and anxiety. Over the course of our history here at BodyRock, we have spoken pretty openly about mental health - sharing our lives and perspectives. Our coaches have also shared their struggles. Fitness is not just about the outside, even if that’s what gets 99% of the press. Our approach to our fitness practice here at BodyRock is in the name itself. There is the Body - which we strive to strengthen and appreciate, and then there is the Rock. The Rock can be perceived in anyway that feels right to you - some of you will call it your Soul, Spirit, Personality, Higher Self. The ‘Body’ and the ‘Rock’ are connected and can lend support to each other, but its the Rock on which we stand, lean our back against and take shelter on when life gets hard and the waves start to crash. I don’t think I’ve ever explained it this way before, but that’s why I capitalized both the Body and the Rock when I write our brand name. I hope that makes sense!  

If you haven’t yet tried our Beginner Bootcamp, you can try a class here for free. Give it a shot. Let us support your 10-15 minutes of exercise each day - we’d love to have you as part of our community, we show up for you each day from the heart, and we won’t let you down. 




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