Exercise and Depression

man exercising to increase serotoninRegular exercise may be the most powerful antidepressant available. Various community and clinical studies have clearly indicated that exercise has profound anti-depressive effects. These studies have shown that increased participation in exercise, sports, and physical activities is strongly associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety (restlessness, tension, etc.), depression (feelings that life is not worthwhile, low spirits, etc.), and malaise (feeling run­down, insomnia, etc.).

Furthermore, people who participate in regular exercise have higher self-esteem, feel better, and are much happier compared to people who do not exercise. There have been at least 100 clinical studies where an exercise program has been used in the treatment of depression. It was concluded that exercise can be as effective as other antidepressants including drugs and psychotherapy.

Exercise is one of the only non-supplemental ways to improve neurotransmitter function. Research has shown that exercising 30 minutes 5 days per week can increase serotonin production 37%. Research suggests that exercise increases the functioning of brain serotonin by two different mechanisms. First, physical exercise increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons, resulting in increased synthesis and release of serotonin. Secondly, regular exercise increases the level of tryptophan, as well as markers of serotonin and dopamine metabolism in the brain, which persists after exercise. This means that getting regular exercise gets more raw materials to your brain (tryptophan) and increases neurotransmitter production, which can lead to increased neurotransmitter balance over time. Providing supplemental tryptophan (or 5-HTP) can further increase this exercise-induced serotonin release by up to 100%. In addition to improving depression, this can also improve sleep quality and duration, reduce anxiety and improve circulation.

The best exercises are either strength training (weight lifting or resistance training) or aerobic activities such as walk­ing briskly, jogging, bicycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, aerobic dance, and racquet sports. The important thing is to train with an intensity that will keep your heart rate in the training zone (defined as 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (220 – (your age in years)).

Example:       If I am 35 years old my maximum heart rate is 220 – 35 = 185.

My training zone is 60-75% of 185:

185 x 0.60 = 111

185 x 0.75 = 139

So I would want my heart rate to stay in the range of 111-139 beats per minute during exercise to stay in my training zone.

Your initial level of fitness doesn’t matter, so no matter where you are on the fitness scale, regular exercise can help.

woman doing situps staying healthy to reduce depressionWhat does matter is consistency and enjoyment. Working out sporadically will not help raise neurotransmitter levels or alleviate depression; you have to establish a regular routine. You also have to enjoy it – if working out is like pulling teeth, look for other activities to keep your blood pumping. Exercise and physical activity shouldn’t be a chore; sure, you may have to drag yourself to the gym or out for a walk for a few weeks until your body gets used to your new routine, but if you find yourself dreading your workout after a month or so, change things up.

Perform a variety of exercises that excite and invigorate you – have fun!!! Do one exercise for the entire 30 minutes, or do a variety. Many things count towards exercise, including:

Gardening Walking Biking
Dancing Playing with kids Sports
Running Soccer Volleyball
Yoga Tai Chi Climbing
Hiking Skating Rebounding
Swimming Jumping rope Yard work
Weight training Resistance training Circuit training

This may also be a good time to buddy-up with someone so you can motivate each other to make the time to exercise. Find a friend and catch up while you take a walk, or take a yoga class together. Make exercise fun and a regular part of your daily routine. Your body (and neurotransmitters) will thank you!