Exercise and Depression

Posted by Leanne Wagner on May 31, 2011  >  No Comments

 Depression is a mental illness characterized by low mood, loss of energy, loss of pleasure, fatigue, irritability, sadness, and changes in healthy sleep and appetite. For many people living with major depression, participating in regular daily activities such as grooming, working, preparing meals, and socializing, is challenging. Additionally, the things that often alleviate symptoms of depression are sometimes the most difficult to initiate and maintain – one of which is exercise. 

Research in the area of depression has repeatedly established a connection between exercise and the reduction of depressive symptoms. For instance, a study conducted by Mata, Thompson, Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides and Gotlib (2011), investigated the association between physical activity and self reported mood among participants with and without major depressive disorder. It was discovered that participants with depression reported significantly higher positive moods on days where they engaged in physical activity. This mood increase was even more substantial as the frequency and duration of physical activity increased. 

Although exercise may be difficult to initiate given the nature of depression, it has consistently demonstrated positive outcomes in terms of symptom reduction. Given the time of year, it may be easier to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine. I recommend integrating small, simple forms of exercise into your lifestyle to begin with. However, as the research suggests, the longer and more intense the physical activity, the more likely you are to benefit. Below I have provided a list of ideas on how to become more physically active: 

–          Take the stairs rather than the elevator

–          Bike to work (or any other reasonable destination)

–          Take public transit (will require walking to and from the bus or train stop)

–          Go for a short walk before work, on your lunch break and after dinner

–          Stretch while watching TV

–          Set a daily limit on the amount of time you spend watching TV or surfing the internet

–          Gardening

–          Wash your car by hand rather than taking it through the car wash

–          Try Yoga or Pilates  (a less rigorous method of exercise)

–          Go for a light jog

–          Join a summer non-competitive sports league 

Of course, as time goes on you can increase the duration and intensity of physical activity you engage in. Remember that it is sometimes difficult to notice changes in your mood as a result of exercise, and these changes will not happen overnight. It may be helpful to keep a daily mood journal and record your thoughts, feelings and attitudes every day. Compare your entries on days you exercise to days you do not, and see if there are any differences. You may also ask loved ones if they notice a change in your overall mood. Lastly, it may help to know that while you are improving your mental health, you are also making important improvements to your physical health.

 Even small life changes can be difficult to commit to. If you have any questions, or feel the need for additional support, please reach out to a mental health professional. 

Mata, J., Thompson, R., Jaeggi, S., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., & Gotlib, H. (2011). Walk on the bright side: Physical activity and affect in major depressive disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Advance online publication. doi. 10.1037/a0023533.

Leave a comment

Blog Categories

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
- Winston Churchill