Exercise and Depression: Can It Really Help?
When depression comes into your life, you begin searching for solutions and methods to produce a quick resolution. You reach for medications that provide minimal benefits combined with side effects that range from mildly uncomfortable to seriously dangerous. You head to your weekly counseling, and although your therapist means well, she has been unable to alleviate your symptoms. Chiropractic, acupuncture and aromatherapy all start promising, but the improvements plateau and begin to decline. You have tried multiple modalities with no success. Where do you turn now?
For thousands of years people have known that you need a healthy body to achieve a healthy mind and a healthy mind to manage a healthy body. Forget about moving in directions that seem less intuitive and more complex. Instead, choose the universal simplicity of exercise to improve your depressive symptoms.
Five Exercise Theories
So many conditions improve with exercise and depression is no different. Why does exercise improve mental health? No one knows for sure, but many people have spent many hours working to figure it out and they have some really good ideas. They include:
- Endorphins: Phrases like “endorphin calm” and “runners high” describe the euphoric feeling many people experience during and after periods of exercise, when endorphin levels increase.
- Serotonin: Psychotropic drugs target serotonin receptors in the brain because more serotonin leads to less depression. Research has shown that exercise increases the amount of serotonin in the body.
- Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Tryptophan makes you feel peaceful and sleepy, like after eating a turkey dinner. Because tryptophan works like serotonin, exercise produces the same effect medications for depression do.
- Norepinephrine: Similar to serotonin, norepinephrine is released in the body during exercise. With increased norepinephrine, symptoms of depression decrease. Norepinephrine is different because of the range of positives it brings, including allowing your heart to beat faster, providing more oxygen to reach your brain and muscles. This enables you to think clearer and have improve strength and coordination.
- Thermogenic: The ancient Greeks used bathhouses to become refreshed and recuperated. Soaking in a hot bath, sitting in a sauna and vacationing somewhere warm all make you feel better. This theory suggests exercise helps you feel less depressed or anxious simply because it warms your body. For thousands of years, people have been seeking out natural hot springs claiming they have healing properties.
No one is sure which of these ideas is correct, but consider combinations of several or all are accurate. Regardless of why it happens, the benefits have been proven time and time again; your brain and body gain so much from even moderate exercise.