Millions of people throughout the world are haunted by a serious
mood disorder: Depression. Depression most often occurs in
individuals who have a personal or family history of depression,
experience a major life change, trauma, or stress. It is also
prevalent in people who suffer from certain physical conditions
and can be a result of side effects of many common medications.
Sufferer’s symptoms include feelings of sadness, hopelessness,
and anxiousness, decreased energy and fatigue, difficulty
concentrating and sleeping, and sometimes thoughts of death or
According to the World Health Organization, it is the
leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 350 million people. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry states that the annual costs related to depression were $210.5 billion in 2010. Depression can vary from mild to severe, and is usually treated with medication and psychotherapy. Recent studies have shown that there is another often underused component of treatment that helps combat this disorder: Exercise.
In 1999, James Blumenthal, a Duke University researcher performed a study looking at exercise, medication, and depression. He found that with the participants in the exercise group, every fifty minutes of exercise correlated to a 50% decrease in the odds of being depressed. Just 8% of the exercise group relapsed, versus 38% of the group that had only been on medication. In 2003, the Columbia University Epidemiology department published a study that surveyed 8,098 people and found that regular physical activity was associated with a significant decrease in the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders.
A more recent study done in 2006 with 19,288 Dutch twins and their families showed that those who exercise are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and more socially outgoing. Many other studies similar to these show the power that exercise has in helping fight depression and reduce the risk of developing it.
Exercise combats depression by helping to restore neural connections in your brain cells. It elevates endorphins that reduce pain perceptions and trigger positive feelings in the body. Exercise regulates the bodies “feel-good” chemicals, which are often the targets of anti-depressants. It also helps in building confidence, reducing stress, taking the mind off worries, providing more social interaction, and helps to cope with depression in a way that is healthy for the body.
It doesn’t take running miles and miles or lifting heavy weights to make an impact. Whether it’s going for a short walk in the morning, playing a game of basketball with friends, washing your car, gardening, or swimming, any boost in physical activity will help to reduce the prevalence and likelihood of depression.
Make sure the activities are enjoyable. The most benefit will come from exercising at least 20-30 minutes most days of the week, even beginning for 5-10 minutes a day can make a big impact for many people. Physical activity spread throughout the day can be just as effective as longer activity sessions as well. Try finding ways to add small amounts of activity to the day by parking a little farther from work, biking to your job, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Exercise is not an instant cure to depression, and it may seem like an overwhelming task for some who find it hard to even get off the couch or out of bed in the mornings. If that is the case, it is even more urgent to incorporate exercise into the daily routine. Start slow and take the process one step at a time, with the knowledge that it can be done!