Lighten up: how physical activity can help ease depression symptoms

As difficult as it may be, getting active can be beneficial, as multiple studies have shown that physical activity can help symptoms of depression.

Lighten up: how physical activity can help ease depression symptoms

Millions of Canadians, like countless others around the world, suffer from depression. This debilitating condition can result in isolation and loss of contact with the outside world. As difficult as it may be, getting active can be beneficial, as multiple studies have shown that physical activity can help symptoms of depression.

Endorphins

Physical activity causes the body to release mood-altering chemicals called endorphins, which work to make us feel better in several ways. First, they interact with pain receptors in our brain to reduce our ability to feel pain, therefore making us feel physically strong and healthy.

Second, they produce a feeling of euphoria, an effect sometimes referred to as a "runner's high". This feeling is similar to that produced by opiates, only unlike opiates, endorphins are not addictive or damaging to our health. The euphoric sensation lifts our mood and makes us feel on top of the world and confident.

Lastly, endorphins act as sedatives, calming and soothing us. When our worries seem overwhelming and life seems too much to bear, this sedative effect provides welcome relief. It also helps us sleep, which is essential for both physical and mental health.

Is all exercise equal?

Any type of moderate exercise releases endorphins in equal measure. Moderate exercise gets the heart rate going without causing complete loss of breath. During moderate exercise, a person should be able to carry a conversation, but they should not have the breath to sing a song.

Some examples of moderate exercise would be going for a brisk walk, swimming, biking, dancing, jogging, low-impact aerobics and tennis. Housework such as gardening, mopping or vacuuming can also fit the bill, as long as it's done at a brisk pace, enough to get the heart rate up. It can often help to join walking groups or team up with a friend for support and added motivation to keep going.

If you struggle with depression, you don't need to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, unless you have physical conditions that may affect which type of exercise is safe for you to do. Exercise has been shown to be an extremely effective treatment for depression; however, if you still feel overwhelmed even after adding regular exercise into your schedule, you should speak to your doctor about other treatment options to supplement your exercise regimen.

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