Are you feeling low during the pandemic, stuck indoors and worried about the future. Or have you been battling depression or anxiety for a long time now? Either way, there is a really good way to help tackle the blues and that is through movement. Get your body moving and heart pumping and slowly but surely you’ll find your mindset shifting. Research shows that more physically active people reported greater general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm than less-active people. Exercise also plays a huge role in reducing stress and also in promoting better sleep, all of which, in the long run, help in creating and maintaining a better happiness quotient. Don’t think of exercise or physical activity as a chore. If exercise is just another “should” in your life that you don’t think you’re living up to, you’ll associate it with failure. Rather, look at your exercise or physical activity schedule the same way you look at your therapy sessions or medication — as one of the tools to help you get better. And remember – it’s never too late to start.
“Exercise stimulates the release of many of the brain chemicals thought to be in low supply when someone is battling depression,” explains David Muzina, MD, the founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research. Releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits. It helps by taking your mind off worries so you can get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety. A lot of research has been done that has proven time and again that symptoms of depression and anxiety get better with exercise. Remember that the mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity may last only if you stick with it over the long term. So start now and keep going.
Here are some exercises to help you get started. Find the ones that suit your interest the most and stick to it for a long time and watch your life change for the better.
Certainly running, lifting weights, playing basketball and other fitness activities that get your heart pumping can help. But so can any physical activity such as gardening, washing your car, walking the dog or engaging in other less intense activities. Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood. A recent review of numerous scientific studies found no association between the intensity level of the exercise and its emotional benefit. So simply moving your body in any way for 20 minutes daily is in itself a great start.
According to various research, aerobic and cardio exercises are found to be the best ways to fight depression. Around 20-30 minutes a day for at least 4 days a week shows amazing benefits for those dealing with the lows and stress of depression and anxiety. You could find a local trainer or watch youtube videos to get you started. Bur do make sure you talk to your doctor or medical professional before starting any rigorous exercise routine like aerobics or cardio, especially if you suffer from any health conditions like heart or lung issues. Starting slow is better for people who have other health conditions.
Ever heard of runner’s high? This is a popular phrase for when the brain experiences euphoria because of the release of endorphins and other natural hormones after sustained physical activity. It has been reported that athletes and runners experience the release of these brain chemicals called endorphins when they cross a certain threshold of exertion. Endorphins are our body’s natural morphine and, when released by special glands in our brains, they can produce a sense of well-being or joy and also decrease pain levels. So get your running shoes on and go for that life-changing jog now.
Strength training is about building your muscles, boosting your strength and your happiness. A recent study of 45 stroke survivors with depression found that a 10-week strength training program helped reduce symptoms of depression (among numerous other benefits). Just be sure to start slowly and use the assistance of a personal trainer if needed. “Strength training is about mastery and control,” says Leslie Seppinni, PhD, a clinical psychologist and family therapist in Beverly Hills. “It requires full attention and concentration. More importantly, people can see the results, the outline of the muscles forming, from dedication and training.”
In a study of 65 women with depression and anxiety, the 34 women who took a yoga class twice a week for two months showed a significant decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, compared to the 31 women who were not in the class. Yoga along with meditation has in recent years been a go-to fitness activity for mental health.
“Eastern traditions such as yoga have a wonderful antidepressant effect in that they improve flexibility; involve mindfulness, which breaks up repetitive negative thoughts; increase strength; make you aware of your breathing; improve balance; and contain a meditative component,” says Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Dr. Rosenthal suggests starting with a yoga class in your area so you can be sure that you’re doing the movements and poses properly. You can also do online classes that are being offered now as many places are currently still in lockdown.
Tai Chi is another eastern tradition that comprises of slow, gentle movements which may help you break free from depression or major depressive disorder. In a study of 14 older Chinese patients with depression, those who took tai chi over a three-month period showed a significant improvement in their depression symptoms. The researchers theorized that the social aspects of tai chi, which is done in group settings, may have also played a role in its effectiveness. Either way this is a beautiful way to get your body and mind moving to help you heal from the blues.
Simply putting one foot in front of the other may be the trick to feeling better — that’s because walking is an aerobic exercise that is suited for almost everyone. All it takes is a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes, and you’re ready to go. “Practical wisdom suggests that doing something is better than doing nothing in terms of physical activity,” says Muzina. If depression has made you sedentary, start slowly and gradually increase time and distance.
If you enjoy being outdoors, even simple activities such as gardening, throwing a ball around with your kids, or washing your car may do you some good. That’s because a healthy dose of sunlight has been shown to boost mood, likely due to the fact that sunshine stimulates our serotonin levels (drops in serotonin during the darker, colder months have been linked to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD).
Exercise is not only going to help you tackle those blues but it helps with many health conditions like heart conditions, diabetes etc to name a few but also in improving general immunity. It also helps in boosting your confidence. If you can make exercise goals, meeting these goals can also help you get in shape and feel better about yourself. Running outdoors or going to the local gym is a good way to meet people and socialize, which also plays a role in boosting your mood and alleviating stress. Exercising is about coping with your depression in a positive and healthy manner as compared to drinking alcohol or taking drugs to deal with it, or staying in bed and pondering on it, making it worse. So go ahead now and take that first step now and move your body to get back your zest for life.