Could Working Up a Sweat Treat Your Depression?

Could Working Up a Sweat Treat Your Depression?
Lack of energy and concentration. Sleepiness. Lost of interest and appetite. Mood swings. While these are only some of the symptoms of clinical depression, they’re all pretty good reasons to avoid exercise. That said, working up a sweat can be as effective as medications for fighting depression.

So if you’re one of the millions of Americans living with this chronic disease, lacing up your walking shoes or slipping on your swimming cap might be just what the doctor ordered.

How Exercise Eases Depression Symptoms

Regular exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of depression (and anxiety) by releasing your “feel good” hormones called endorphins. Low-intensity exercise maintained over time also fuels the release of special proteins that cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections, enhancing your brain function and mood. 

A second way working out works: by getting your mind away from the negative thinking that nurtures depression. Exercise also boosts confidence, encourages greater social interaction, and fosters a healthier, more proactive coping mechanism.

Your Exercise Prescription: 30 Minutes a Day

How much physical activity is enough? Thirty minutes or more of exercise each day three to five days a week can improve depression or anxiety symptoms. Remember, smaller amounts of activity (even 15 minutes) can make a difference. If you don’t have time to exercise 30 minutes at once, aim for three 10-minute sessions.

Starting and Sticking With Exercise:

Six strategies that help you do both:

  • Do what you love: You don’t have to run circles around a track. Would you rather ride your bike to work? Play basketball with the kids after school? Go swimming at the gym? Find a physical activity that inspires you.
  • Understand barriers: What’s stopping you? For example, if it’s self-doubt or lack of confidence, consider exercising in your own home. If you don’t have a lot of money to buy fancy gear and equipment, participate in something that’s free, such as walking.
  • Get support: From your loved ones and your doctor. Talk to your mental health specialist or health care provider for added guidance.
  • Think gradual: Set realistic goals. It’s best to gradually build to where you can exercise comfortably before diving into a more intense activity (e.g., boot camp workout). Friends can help you stay on track. Exercising as a whole family can also be very rewarding and a great way to reduce sedentary time.
  • Prepare for pitfalls and celebrate wins: Small steps are still steps, so celebrate them! You will have days when exercise feels like a drag or you skip a workout. Don’t throw in the towel after temporary setbacks.
Struggling with depression or another mental health issue? Holland Hospital Behavioral Health Services is here for you or someone you love. Treating the whole person—mind, body and spirit—in a confidential setting, our behavioral health specialists are dedicated to delivering compassionate care and personalized attention. Back  
  • Scott Steenwyk, LMSW

    Scott Steenwyk, LMSW

    Scott Steenwyk is an outpatient therapist at Holland Hospital’s Behavioral Health Services working with children, adolescents and families on a variety of mental health issues. Scott lives in Holland with his wife and two young sons. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with family, coaching his kids in numerous sports, boating and running. All blogs by Scott Steenwyk, LMSW

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