Lifestyle: Using Exercise to Starve off Depression

With the recent media warning that the rate of teen depression and anxiety in the UK has risen by 70% in the past 25 years, it has become clear that mental health is an issue for people of all ages. I keep seeing the media talking about how people (especially those in their teens and twenties) can beat depression through exercise and lifestyle changes, so I thought I’d lightly touch on it today.

One thing I’ve noticed myself over the recent years is that social media has really helped mental health become something that is a little more openly shared. We’re still not quite there yet with it being a real open topic, but I’ve definitely seen improvements.

Mental health problems affect one in four British per year, and in England, one in every six report having a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression, in any given week.

Health professionals and researchers are constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve our mental health. Exercise has long been one of the most commonly prescribed lifestyle choices to make to stave off anxiety and depression, but a new study has found that even a small amount of physical activity (just one hour a week) can have powerful effects against depression.

I have to reflect on myself a little bit here, and state that I’m not a sufferer of mental health, therefore I can’t talk about it from the heart like a lot of you possibly can. But, I have experience periods of extreme low feelings, swings of light depression and certainly anxiety, and I have witnessed first-hand exercise helping to lift my mood.

Battling Depression Through Exercise

The above-mentioned study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, is the largest and most extensive of its kind, involving almost 34,000 adults, whose levels of exercise and symptoms of depression were studied for an 11-year period. Researchers found that even relatively small amounts of exercise have a positive effect on depression, owing to a combination of various physical and social benefits. With rates of sedentarism on the rise, it is motivating for many to know that even small efforts can result in big benefits.

Exercise improves our chances of meeting like-minded individuals too, who can serve as a vital source of support when times are tough. They can encourage you to think about exercise and working out goals to take your mind off any problems you may be battling, or, they might be attending classed or the gym to battle depression the same as you.

It doesn’t always have to be about the gym or a work out class though too. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than planning in a good walk with a friend/family member/partner, or even joining a walking club or group. The great outdoors can do wonders for your mind.

Keeping fit also has important effects on our body, as its been shown to slow levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. When present at chronically high levels, cortisol can lead to panic attacks and exacerbate symptoms of depression. It’s also linked to chronic illnesses that can be costly from an economic and psychological perspective alike, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

What Type of Exercise Can Help?

Both cardiovascular and strength exercise alike help keep stress levels down. Doctors generally recommend a blend of cardiovascular and strength exercises, since the latter are necessary for building muscle, burning fat, and strengthening bones, while cardiovascular exercise is ideal for improved heart health.

For stress in particular, mindfulness based activities such as yoga and pilates have been proven in study after study to increase vitality and motivation, promote better sleep, lower cortisol levels, and improve mood. By practising mind-body control, controlled breathing, and meditation, we are able to keep the mind ‘in the present moment’ for a few crucial moments of the day.

Because young people and adults who are used to leading a sedentary lifestyle can find it difficult to start a fitness routine, it is vital for them to be aware that even a small effort can result in great benefits for their mental health.

With depression and anxiety on the rise in British youths, at least an hour a week (aim for three minimum) will go a long way towards ensuring they grow to be happy, healthy adults who value exercise as an essential part of their life.

It can be really hard to start, and I remember when I was making me first efforts into keeping fit a few years back, I started off doing YouTube videos in my bedroom, just like ’10 minute fat burn’ videos, or ‘quick abs work out’ just to get used to doing small blasts.

There’s a lot of help online in the form of social media, YouTube videos, and websites which can assist with both depression and keeping fit, so try to remember: you’re not alone

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