Depression is a complex disorder that can pose significant barriers to the daily demands of life. Early recognition of the symptoms and getting treatment are helpful, but exercise can also play a powerful role in diminishing symptoms of depression. While there are many different classifications of depression and competing theories of what causes it, up-regulation of the dopaminergic reward pathways seem to almost universally help. This is where exercise can come in.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder resulting in constant feelings of sadness and lack of interest. It interferes with feelings, thoughts, and behavior, and can lead to many emotional and physical issues. You could have trouble with daily life or even feel like life isn’t worth the effort.
It’s not a weakness or something you can make go away with a snap of your fingers. It may require long-term treatment, but many people get better with therapy, antidepressants, ketamine, or a combination.
How Many People Does It Affect?
Depression is a huge problem, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. and 5% of the total adult population worldwide. It’s also a leading source of disability, preventing countless people from living healthy, productive lives. It carries a terrible burden, not only increasing the risk of suicide in adults and children, but also costing the American economy more than $200 billion a year in lost productivity related to lost work and working while sick.
Know the Symptoms
- Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
- Anger, irritability, and frustration
- Trouble sleeping
- Tiredness and low energy, so even minor tasks need extra effort
- Problems eating resulting in weight loss or gain
- Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- Problems with thinking, speaking, and bodily movements
- You feel worthless, guilty, or are obsessed with past letdowns or self-blame
- Difficulties with decision making and memory
- Frequent or recurring thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems
What Are The Causes?
- There may be physical changes in your brain. The impact of these changes is still unknown but could help pinpoint causes.
- Brain chemistry, including how neurotransmitters function, is another possible cause. Weakened or damaged neurotransmitters may affect how pain and feelings are transmitted and perceived, but ketamine therapy can sometimes help.
- Hormonal changes, such as the changes that occur before, during, or after pregnancy (known as postpartum depression). Depression may also be caused by thyroid problems, menopause, or other conditions.
- Inherited traits, especially if there’s a family history of depression with blood relatives.
Risk Factors of Depression?
Several factors may increase your risk for depression:
- Certain personality traits like low self-esteem
- Trauma or stressful events, like physical or other abuse, a troubled relationship, or money problems
- Sexual orientation or gender identification and being in an unsupportive environment
- You have a history of other mental health issues, like anxiety disorder, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Serious or long-term illnesses like cancer, stroke, etc.
- High blood pressure medicine or sleeping pills
Exercise to Fight Depression
There are many ways to fight symptoms of depression. Not everyone is comfortable talking about mental health with a professional due to the stigma, while others just don’t want to take medicine for religious, cultural, or other beliefs. Fortunately, depression symptoms can sometimes be mitigated with exercise and an active lifestyle.
Exercise may help with depression because it’s known to release feel-good endorphins and distracts your mind from what may be bothering you. The obvious benefits include gaining self-confidence, potential social interaction and building interpersonal skills, learning to cope in a healthy manner, and improving physical wellness. Here are some exercises and activities that may ease depression.
- Go for a run, jog, or brisk walk. Running has many physical and mental benefits.
- Lift weights or enroll in a strength training class. According to Harvard Health Publishing and JAMA Psychiatry, lifting weights may also boost positive moods.
- Try yoga or mindfulness. According to a publication of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, numerous studies revealed that yoga reduced depressive symptoms among pregnant women, those with lower back pain, people with atrial fibrillation, strokes, and people with addictions. Mindfulness combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy may reduce depression symptoms, too.
- The Eastern practice of Tai Chi, with its slow, purposeful, coordinated moves, can reduce stress and manage depression symptoms.
- Go for a bike ride.
- Do something in the great outdoors, especially on a sunny day. Sunlight is a great way to fight depression.
- Try a new craft or hobby.
- Learn to laugh.
Depression affects many people differently. But most report a reduction in their sense of well-being and quality of life. As neuroscientist Andrew Huberman has elegantly put it, “Happiness is a progressive expansion of the things that bring you pleasure.” And expanding the things that bring you pleasure takes work. He goes on to say, “ ‘Work’ in this context could be deliberate abstinence from no-effort-to-high-dopamine behaviors and drugs, directed attention, conscious understanding, mindfulness and on and on..” including exercise.