Can Depression Be Treated With Physical Exercise?

Depression afflicts about 5 percent of adults in all developed countries. It is a major cause of disability. The disability rate is even higher in those with mild depression. The main symptom
of depression is fatigue. Fatigue is a low level of physical and mental energy. 

People with depression often have other chronic medical issues, like heart disease. Over time, depression influences how people live. It can lower self-esteem and motivation. It can have negative effects on close relationships and can alter your relationship with food. In other words, depression makes everyday life harder. 

Current standard therapy for depression is drug treatment, the effectiveness of which is not well documented in older adults. 

Research shows that regular moderate or vigorous physical activity and exercise improves mental well-being. It also helps with other symptoms of depression. For example, active people are 45 percent less likely to develop symptoms of depression. The effects are similar to those after drug therapy. Exercise is a mighty depression fighter for numerous reasons. Most importantly, it encourages all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that elevate feelings of peace and well-being. It also releases endorphin's, strong chemicals in your brain that excite your spirits and make you feel good. Lastly, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Does the type of exercise make a difference? Most studies show that moderate to high levels of physical activity reduce symptoms more than lighter levels. There are many different modes of performing this type of exercise.

Moderate activity and exercise include but are not limited to the following:
* Walking at a moderate or brisk pace of 3 to 4.5 mph
* Low-grade hiking
* Roller skating
* Weight training
* Yoga
* Gymnastics
* Dancing
* Recreational games
Vigorous activity and exercise include but are not limited to the following: 
* Aerobic walking at 4.5 mph or higher
* Jogging or running
* Mountain climbing, rock climbing, backpacking
* Bicycling
* Circuit weight training
* Karate, judo, tae-kwon-do, jujitsu
* Boxing
* Competitive sports
* Roller skating or in-line skating at a brisk pace 

The research isn't clear on the minimal or best amount of exercise needed, but I do know that you don’t need a high fitness level to get the benefits. At the end of the day, being regularly active is more important than being fit.

I am empathetic to the fact that the last thing a person wants to do when they are depressed is exercise or be physically active. But I encourage you to try some form of physical activity that is comfortable. Even it is just cleaning your house or working in the yard for a little while. Even just a few minutes of physical activity is better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. 

The key is to commit to doing some moderate physical activity on most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.