If you suffer from depression, anxiety or just pure frustration at what’s going on in your life, there’s good news: A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that exercising regularly can have a dramatic effect on your mood, perceived depression and your overall outlook on life.
Most people exercise for the beneficial effects on the body — strengthening muscles and the cardiovascular system, boosting energy levels and reducing body fat. But exercise is also great to reduce stress and ward off anxiety. Whether you’re worrying about the economy, anxious about possibly losing your job, frustrated with your kids or nervous about a speech you have to do the next day, exercise can help relieve those feelings and bring you back to center.
When you’re feeling down in the dumps, it can be really hard to get motivated to exercise. But as soon as you take that first step, your mood will start to improve and you’ll want to go further. Rachel Hooper, a Spokane resident who is dedicated to her daily workouts says, “When you’re in a really bad mood or just frustrated, all you need to do is just grab your iPod and tennis shoes, go for a run and by the end of it you feel great, your energy is up, and you got in a great workout.”
That’s because exercise doesn’t just affect your muscles — it also affects your brain. A study by the Mayo Clinic shows that exercise increases levels of mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain, as well as reducing levels of stress hormones — sort of a two-for-the-price-of-one deal to improve your outlook. By providing an outlet for nervous energy, exercise also helps improve quality of sleep, and — as anyone who has suffered from depression and anxiety knows — disturbed sleep is a major symptom. Oddly enough, the simple fact that exercise raises your body temperature seems to have a calming effect. Getting moving also releases muscle tension and elevates your heart rate, actually helping you to think more clearly and be more objectively about your problems. Then there’s the personal satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something positive for yourself, which improves confidence and may even lead to more positive, healthy changes down the line.
I find that if I exercise first thing in the morning, my day always seems brighter. If I happen to skip an exercise session or wasn’t able to fit it in, that day just doesn’t seem to run as smoothly. My mind isn’t as clear, I’m generally more irritable, and I can sometimes just boil up with frustration at people and the world. Even though there are scientific studies to back up this idea, I can attest to the benefits of exercise on mood from personal experience — you’ll discover similar benefits if you commit to daily exercise.
So what kind of exercise should you do? The good news is that in terms of improving emotional health, anything that gets your blood flowing, your muscles active and your mind off of your worries will do. Simply taking a walk, doing yoga with a DVD, hopping on your bike, swimming, taking a whack at some weeds in the garden, or cleaning your house — all can reduce stress and depression. And the length of time is not as important as when your goal is to improve strength and conditioning: Even just 10 minutes of exercise can have a positive effect on mood.
For people with a diagnosis of clinical depression, exercise may be one of the best forms of therapy. A Duke University study found exercise was more effective at long-term relief from depression than the anti-depressant medication Zoloft. These patients exercised vigorously for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
But don’t be afraid to start small. Just getting your body moving will make you feel better, age better and live longer.