If depression has you down, here's some uplifting news: Research shows that exercise can work just as well as antidepressant medications, and it doesn't come with any of the potential side effects. The activity is free and available to all, so give it a shot if you're feeling the blues. Although only a mental-health expert can evaluate your condition, there is a chance that exercise is all you need for mild to moderate depression.
How it Can Help
Health professionals have long known that physical exercise boosts endorphin activity in the body and the brain. Endorphins are natural pain blockers that make you feel better both mentally and physically. Some scientists also believe that exercise boosts mood by stimulating norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter in the brain.
Along with increasing overall happiness, exercise also helps banish stress that may contribute to depression. Regular physical activity also encourages better sleep, further enhancing mental wellness. In addition, exercising can increase your self-esteem. In some cases, you may lose weight and feel better about yourself. Even without weight loss, accomplishing physical tasks brings a sense of achievement--and deservedly so.
Comparing Exercise with Medication
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 directly compared the mental effects of exercise with those of antidepressants. Researchers placed participants into either an exercise group, a medication group or a combination-therapy group, and found that after 16 weeks, patients in all groups were relieved of symptoms so that they were no longer clinically depressed.
There are plenty of upsides to exercising rather than taking drugs to treat depression. Antidepressants can come with side effects like drowsiness, insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, weight gain, nervousness and loss of libido.
Exercise, on the other hand, comes with a plethora of health benefits including increased strength, reduced cholesterol levels, reduced blood pressure, better blood-sugar management and improved heart and lung function.
Although some experts used to worry that depression patients wouldn't stick to an exercise routine, research shows that just 15 percent of patients drop out of exercise programs, which is similar to other treatments.
What Type of Exercise is the Best Remedy
After collecting years worth of research, the Journal of Psychiatric Practice recently published a report on what type of exercise is best to fight depression. Aerobic exercises like brisk walking, cycling and jogging won as the best depression remedies; for best results, aim for three to five weekly sessions lasting 45 to 60 minutes each.
Exercise intensity can be moderate or vigorous, but the report recommends reaching 50 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate, which you can estimate by subtracting your age from the number 220. Heart rate is measured in beats per minute, which you can count by checking your pulse
Though exercise may certainly alleviate depression, anyone who may suffer from it should seek help from a qualified expert. And even if it doesn't work for you, you'll still be healthier and stronger as a result of your effort.
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Nina Kate is a certified fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She also studied journalism at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and has contributed to numerous major publications as a freelance writer. Nina thrives on sharing nutrition and fitness knowledge to help readers lead healthy, active lives. Visit her wellness blog at BodyFlourish.com.