If you didn’t already have enough reasons to get out and exercise, then fighting depression and improving mental health are good ones to add to the list.
Both Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic talk about proven science showing that even as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-5 times per week can be very effective at preventing clinical depression, bring mood improvement, enhance cognitive function, lift self-esteem, and reduce anxiety.
It’s found that exercise brings mental benefits:
- A Natural High – Exercise can enhance the release of natural brain chemicals that are commonly called the feel-good endorphins (technically known as endogenous cannabinoids). These endorphins generally enhance your overall sense of well-being and many people even talk about getting an exercise high from the release of these cannabinoids.
- Breaking a Negative Thought Cycle – Exercise brings mind and body together and focuses them on the task of movement and usually in a different physical space. This concerted effort of mind and body can act as a very good way to disrupt a cycle of thought and provide an alternative focus.
- Increases Blood Circulation in the Brain – Exercise improves blood flow in the brain and stimulates the interaction between limbic system the Amygdala and the Hippocampus. Most of us don’t know what those brain systems control, but together they are all involved with motivation, mood and regulating stress. Scientists have seen exercise-enhanced engagement between them with mood-boosting results.
- Increases Social Interaction – people tend with withdraw when they are feeling down or experiencing depression. Exercise opens an opportunity to draw us out of that isolation and builds a platform to socialize with others, even if it’s just to provide a space for basic social greetings. A simple walk in your community can provide an opportunity for brief conversations with neighbours that can make one feel more connected and less isolated and improves our sense of well being.
- Improve Self-esteem – when you begin to build an exercise regime make sure that you set yourself up for success. Before you start, do a little planning and structure for success. Set very small and manageable exercise goals that are achievable each day. These daily successes set the stage for successive, albeit small, victories which ensure that you have frequent moments to feel pleased with yourself. Exercise doesn’t have to be a strenuous work out. Simple “physical movement” can be a better way to think about it. This can include housework, walking to the store, gardening, washing your car or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
If you’re like me and you don’t love exercising, then find ways to turn daily activities into physical movement. Walking to work is a great way to bring exercise into an activity you have to do anyway. If you live close enough to your office to walk the whole route, then leave a bit earlier and make that your mental health activity. If you take transit, then get off about 1km from your regular stop and get in 15 minutes of brisk walking.
Remember, even as little as 15 minutes of physical movement a day will make a very significant difference in your mood and your ability to keep depression out of your life.