Researchers at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, in collaboration with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, published a report in Psychological Medicine that revealed a rapid increase in depression in the United States from 2005 to 2015, starting at the age of 12. They found an accelerated increase among younger generations. Fortunately, there has also been an increase in conversations surrounding depression and other mood disorders. This is beneficial because it helps to minimize the stigma that has been associated with depression for decades.
As mental health therapies expand in the medical community and beyond, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a holistic approach to mental health is of great value. For starters, using exercise to treat depression is highly beneficial. While exercise isn’t a cure-all, combining it with other therapies like TMS treatment or antidepressants will prove beneficial to individuals of all ages. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for an immediate and positive effect on both your mind and body.
Stress and anxiety are often precursors to depression. Some people respond to these kinds of emotions by self-medicating with food or alcohol. Many have reported eating a wide variety of comfort foods during high-stress times in their life. Others use alcoholic beverages to achieve a temporary state of happiness. Neither of these common methods of dealing with life’s difficulties results in satisfactory outcomes.
As it turns out, exercise is a proven way to elevate your mood and decrease stress because it increases blood flow to the brain. Additionally, your brain releases hormones called endorphins when you exercise. Endorphins are known for producing an overall feeling of wellness, which is why they’re often considered the body’s natural opiate. In addition to creating a sense of happiness, the endorphins released while exercising also lower your blood pressure and improve your immune system.
The effect of exercise on your mood can be quite significant. Some reports have shown that 20 minutes of exercise can improve your mood for as long as 12 hours. The reason why it’s so long-lasting is that endorphins impact your pituitary gland and central nervous system, which are capable of producing a feeling of euphoria, while also inhibiting the transmission of pain signals.
In addition to the production of endorphins, exercise will cause your body to produce several other hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF.) All of these chemicals help relieve depression and anxiety while boosting your mood. Exercise also works to decrease the amount of cortisol that’s produced, which is the chemical that contributes to stress and other issues that negatively impact your body.
The effects of exercise aren’t for a short period of time. Individuals that exercise consistently are also able to prevent cognitive decline, which leads to an improved outlook on life. Generally speaking, cardiovascular exercise is what tends to have the biggest effect on a person’s mood. However, other exercises and activities have also demonstrated the ability to produce happy hormones. Tai Chi, yoga, and weight lifting are just a few examples of other activities that effectively treat depression when used in conjunction with other therapies.
If you want to incorporate exercise into your routine, be sure to start out with a realistic schedule that works for you. Even if you start with just 10 minutes a day, you can always increase your time commitment once exercising becomes a habit.