Exercise helps decrease depressive symptoms

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Exercise helps decrease depressive symptoms

When I ask my depressed patients if they exercise, I get groans and sighs of guilt since they have ‘given up’ with their exercise programs. I realize that exercising may be the absolute last thing you feel like doing when you are depressed. However, research shows that exercise is a natural ‘anti-depressant’ and is useful as an alternate or add on to therapy and medication. Many patients don’t want to take medication, or want to keep their medication doses as low as possible. If exercising regularly helps to do this, why not give it a try?

At this point, I want to add in that for severe depression and certain types of depression, medication is the mainstay of treatment initially and exercise can aid in recovery later. You need to discuss this with your health care provider.

Some of the research shows

  • Regular exercise has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms. This article written, by the Black Dog Institute explains some of the research behind these findings and also advises with regards intensity and frequency of exercise.
  • It has been shown that the more you exercise the greater effect on depressive symptoms.(1)
  • Sufficient exercise alone may improve mild to moderate depressive symptoms – without medication and therapy. The exercise needs to be vigorous or moderate in intensity 30 minutes a week.(1)
  • Some studies have shown that the exercise programs may have equal or more benefit to certain therapies.(2)

So with this information, how are you going to exercise more?

1) Assess your current level of physical activity
· Inactive people are more prone to becoming depressed

· Look at the benefits of doing more physical activity in your life. ( Improved depressive symptoms, improved physical health, loss or maintenance of a healthy weight)

· What are the potential barriers you may face? ( i.e. I have no time…)

2) Action Plan
· Look at exercise as a prescribed by your dcotor (like you would your medication), and that may help you take it more seriously and stick to a program. I sometimes write it out on a script pad to get my point across i.e. Exercise for 30mins ‘x’ amount of times a week.

· Start off slowly – try and start with short periods of exercise 3 times, 15 mins a week and slowly build it up.

· Write up an exercise plan – slowly increasing over the next few weeks.

· Exercise with a friend or a trainer to prevent you from canceling your sessions.

· Find something that you enjoy doing. I often ask patients what sports they enjoyed at school, and they try to find an adult equivalent of this exercise.

· Ensure that you are medically stable and allowed to exercise. consult with your general practioner or physician to ensure this.

The most common recommendation is to try and aim for about 30 mins of moderate exercise a day. This can be broken up into sessions, e.g. ten minutes in the morning, at lunch and in the evening.

There are many tips which help you exercise more, these are a few of my favorite ones.

  • short walks during the day – morning, lunch and in the evening. Your dogs will love it!
  • schedule time in your calendar for exercise and treat it like any other appointment. I have done this recently, and it makes a big difference.
  • take the stairs where ever you can, or park the car further away from the shops than you normally would.
  • Plan a holiday where you can exercise.

References (1),(2)

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