Many of my clients have depression. Some of them are on medication, and others are opting for holistic options. I have found there is no best solution with medication. Yet I do know of what does work on a consistent level, and that my friend is exercise.
You need to exercise. Regularly. From now until you take your last breath.
If you struggle with depression, but aren’t regularly working out, you haven’t begun to fight.
This isn’t rah-rah cajoling; it’s a research-backed truth.
Numerous studies(1) have proven that exercise is just as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. Research has also shown that people who exercise are about 3X less likely to relapse into depression over the course of a year, than those who take medication alone.
In 1999, a randomized controlled trial showed that depressed adults who took part in aerobic exercise improved as much as those treated with Zoloft. A 2006 meta-analysis of 11 studies bolstered those findings and recommended that physicians counsel their depressed patients to try it. A 2011 study took this conclusion even further: It looked at 127 depressed people who hadn’t experienced relief from SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant, and found that exercise led 30 percent of them into remission—a result that was as good as, or better than, drugs alone.
Exercise’s antidepressant effect is thought to be a function of the way in which it boosts endorphins — a natural painkiller and mood booster. It also increases norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that may enhance mood. Plus, exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells, which counteracts depression’s neuron-retarding and brain-shrinking effects.
Exercise also has more intangible benefits — increasing confidence, discipline, and willpower, and fostering the satisfaction that is born of using one’s body as it was intended — to move, work, push, run, jump, and lift.
Studies show that the more vigorously you exercise, the more depression-destroying benefits you accrue. Aerobic exercise seems to be particularly effective in boosting mood, but weightlifting has its unique satisfactions as well. I’d recommend doing both. Aim to work out for 45-60 minutes at least 3-5 times a week.
If that seems like too much to implement, know that simply walking vigorously for 45 minutes 3X a week has been found to have depression-squashing effects.
And if you can’t even motivate yourself to start walking? Take a page from a college student who was interviewed for an Atlantic Monthly article about exercise and depression and adopted the baby steps approach we recommended above:
“He thought getting some exercise might help, but it was hard to motivate himself to go to the campus gym.
‘So what I did is break it down into mini-steps,’ he said. ‘I would think about just getting to the gym, rather than going for 30 minutes. Once I was at the gym, I would say, ‘I’m just going to get on the treadmill for five minutes.’
Eventually, he found himself reading novels for long stretches at a time while pedaling away on a stationary bike. Soon, his gym visits became daily. If he skipped one day, his mood would plummet the next.
‘It was kind of like a boost,’ he said, recalling how exercise helped him break out of his inertia. ‘It was a shift in mindset that kind of got me over the hump.’”
When you’re having trouble dragging yourself to the gym, think of the admonition of psychology writer Tal Ben-Shahar: “Not exercising is like taking depressants.” If you’ve already got the melancholic deck stacked against you, don’t ingest metaphorical despondency drugs by living a sedentary lifestyle.
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Exercise Interventions for Mental Health: A Quantitative and Qualitative Review, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2850.2006.00021.x/abstract
For Depression, Prescribing Exercise Before Medication – http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/for-depression-prescribing-exercise-before-medication/284587/