Depression: A Common Concern
Depression currently affects about 17 million adults each year in the US, and is the leading cause of disability nationwide.
It even has financial consequences: depressive disorders are responsible for more the loss of roughly $100 billion each year in work productivity. Another $1 billion is spent each year on treatment of depression and associated illnesses. Those who experience them suffer not only emotionally, but physically, socially and professionally.
What is Depression?
People sometimes confuse depression with sadness. Sadness is an emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives, due to loss, disappointment or worry. It comes and goes, often based on life events.
Depression, on the other hand, is a mental health condition. It often includes sadness, but is also marked by feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and loss of interest in activities that are usually pleasurable.
If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from depression, it’s important to know that treatment is available and things can get better. There are several ways to treat it and help reduce the likelihood that it will recur again in the future. These include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes to promote a positive sense of self. Of those lifestyle changes, research suggests that regular exercise can be one of the most helpful.
Exercise and Depression
In Legally Blonde, the eternally upbeat Elle Woods argues that the exercise guru Brooke Windom could not have killed her husband because “[e]xercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy … [and] happy people don’t just shoot their husbands.”
It turns out, Elle knew what she was talking about. Research has shown that exercise can decrease symptoms of depression. This may be due to the circulation of endorphins, the fact that exercise can distract us from unpleasant thoughts, or our tendency to feel proud and accomplished after a good workout. Being active is a reliable form of self-care.
Interestingly, the positive emotional effects of exercise appear to have less to do with the intensity or length of one’s workout and more to do with its frequency. This is great news for those of us who are turned off by high-intensity training. We don’t have to run marathons or lift enormous weights to reap the benefits of exercise: regular walks, light yoga routines, or nights dancing with friends can all do their part.
While there is still more evidence that needs to be gathered on just how effective exercise can be in reducing symptoms of depression, the above data is promising.
Additional Mental Health Benefits
Exercise has long been one of “the most recommended” techniques for coping with stress.
It is also known to aid with stress-related symptoms such as fatigue, concentration, and cognitive functioning. It often improves our ability to get a healthy night’s sleep, which can decrease stress in the long-term. Exercise can also decrease tension, stabilize mood, and improve self-esteem.
How To Start Exercising
In many areas of life, exercise included, starting can be the hardest part. You’ll find that once you’ve established a regular routine, fitting workouts into your daily schedule will become easy.
Build Up to Bigger Goals
We recommend starting realistic goal and building it up incrementally. For example, if you’re someone who never walks and always takes the elevator, starting with a goal of running 10 miles a week might not be realistic. Instead, you might aim to walk half a mile three days a week, and slowly add on.
Try Different Types of Workouts
If one type of workout doesn’t suit you, don’t get discouraged; exercises are like different types of foods, with different flavors matching each person’s tastes. Someone who loves moving at a fast pace may love dance or tennis but hate weightlifting or yoga. Likewise, someone who loves team sports like soccer or ultimate frisbee may detest self-focused activities like pilates or jogging.
3. Make it Social
One way to stay motivated about exercising is to find a workout buddy who can help keep you motivated and accountable to yourself. Likewise, being around people will also help you engage socially with others, another reliable way to improve your mood.
Looking for more ways to take action against depression? We’ve highlighted a few that we love, from apps to worksheets to playlists, at the Resilient Brain Project. Give them a try and let us know how they work for you!
Also, consider scheduling a free consult to discuss how therapy can help treat your depression.
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a chain of drug and alcohol rehab facilities. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org