Exercise and Depression: 5 Tips to Move Your Mood!

Exercise and Depression: 5 Tips to Move Your Mood!

It’s natural and normal to feel depressed at times, particularly and especially when, life throws you a curve ball. Whether it’s the ending of a relationship, a death in the family, the loss of a job, or even just adjusting to different circumstances. Depression is a mood state, just like happy, excited or sad. Across the spectrum of symptoms, there are distinctly different types of depression. From not being able to eat or sleep, to eating too much and feeling too fatigued to even get out of bed. If depression was a colour it would come in all shades, in all colours.

Exercise and Depression: Nature’s Anti-depressant

A recent meta-analysis found that engaging in physical activity could reduce your chances of developing depression by 17%. We also know that typically exercise has a large effect on reducing symptoms of depression, and this includes activities like resistance training, yogabouldering (rock climbing), cycling, swimming and running. A well known study done in 1999 at Duke University even concluded that exercise was as effective as medication in relieving symptoms of depression!

Luckily exercise and physical activity also comes in a full spectrum of colours, too. From walking to work in the morning, or going for a run in your lunch break, to signing up for a yoga class or going to a boxing session with a mate. There is a type of exercise for everyone, and every type of exercise can be adapted to the intensity which you like best! You can exercise alone, or with a friend, or with a bunch of strangers. You can exercise indoors or outdoors. You can literally make it whatever you want!

I say all of this because I think the words ‘exercise’ or ‘physical activity’ bring to mind images of stereotypical types of exercise, like being in a gym or being outside running, which can put a lot of people off straight away. A better term to use would be movement. And our bodies were made to move, our physiology and particularly our neurophysiology (our brain) NEEDS us to move in order for us to feel good. (If you want to read more about this, read my stress blog).

Working Out Depression

Are you sure exercise is going to make me feel better…? (Yep!)

Biologically:

Exercise releases endorphins (anti-stress hormones), 40 types of them to be exact. One of the effects these have is that they calm the brain and relieve muscle pain during strenuous exercise (hence why Superman can lift cars up!). Exercise also regulates all of the same neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants.

For starters, it immediately elevates norepinephrine, waking up the brain and getting it going. As well as improving self-esteem, which is one component of depression. Exercise boosts dopamine, which improves mood and feelings of wellness, and jump-starts the attention system. Dopamine is important because it is all about driving motivation and attention, that’s why they say getting started is the hardest part!

Exercise also increases BDNF which protects neurons against cortisol in areas that control mood, including the hippocampus. It encourages neurons to connect and grow, and it vital for neuroplasticity and neurogenesis (keeping our brain young and adaptable)!

Psychosocially:

In addition to feeling good when you exercise, you feel good about yourself, and that has a positive effect that can’t be traced to a particular chemical or area in the brain. We know that norepinephrine and serotonin, which are both boosted with exercise, act on the limbic system (the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) which is responsible for things like how we perceive and regulate our emotions. Even small doses of exercises are effective at improving peoples quality of life and psychosocial functioning.

The best exercises for reducing/preventing depressive symptoms are:

A recent study suggests that exercising between 3 and 5 times a week for 30-60 minutes is associated with better mental health, and team sports, cycling, aerobic and gym exercise came in at the top for types of exercise associated with better mental health.

Resistance training has also shown to have a large impact on reducing depressive symptoms, particularly when supervised by a health professional and lasting shorter than 45 minutes. You can read more on this in James’ blogs here and here.

If you’ve been feeling down and you start to exercise and feel better, the sense that you’re going to be OK and that you can count on yourself shifts your entire attitude. The stability of the routine alone can dramatically improve mood. So next time you feel flat do the smart thing, the thing that future you will appreciate, and move your body (even if it’s just out of the house!). And if motivation or accountability is the issue, why not train with an Exercise Physiologist or another qualified health professional?

Exercise is not an instant cure, but if you move your body your mood basically won’t have a choice!

Tips:

  • It’s important to keep expectations reasonable
  • Exercise outside, or in an environment that stimulates your senses
  • Exercise with somebody
  • Something is better than nothing!
  • Try to form an exercise routine – this adds to feelings of stability

 

3 Ways to Create the Motivation to Exercise!

3 Ways to Create the Motivation to Exercise!

Let’s start with hard facts:

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers) worldwide – contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually.

Nearly one in three (29.7%) adults are insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes of physical activity per week), while 14.8% are inactive (no exercise in the last week).

We know exercise is good for us! Even if we don’t really know how or why – we all know it’s good for us, it’s almost in innate knowledge. So why aren’t more of us exercising?! I think it’s fairly safe to say our motivation to exercise is a pretty universal barrier for most of us, so let’s talk about that.

 

Motivation to Exercise and the F Word

I’m going to go a bit left field here, stick with me… I’ve just finished reading Mark Manson’s book and a lot of what he said resonated with me not just in life, but particularly toward our motivation to exercise.

Failure is a relative concept. It totally depends on how we’re choosing to measure our success towards our goals. And our goals should be driven by our values.

 

The Link Between Our Values & Motivation to Exercise

Sometimes, where we go wrong is that our values aren’t quite right to help foster a positive, successful experience that builds self-efficacy and growth.

For instance, if I measure my effort at the gym by “do I look like Jennifer Aniston yet?”, I will be self-critical and negative as this is something I don’t really have control over. We have different genetics, different body types, enjoy different types of exercise, have different time constraints (the list goes on). But if I adopt the metric “maintain a regular and consistent exercise routine”, I can live up to my value of “Live a healthy, balanced life”.

Toddlers learning to walk continually fail. They stand up, take half a step, wobble, fall over, and repeat that cycle a few thousand times before they can actually walk. Never do they think “my god, I suck at this, I don’t think walking is for me!”.

However, improvement on anything is based on thousands of tiny failures. And the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because they have failed at it more than you have. (Or done it many more times, and therefore have refined the skill and have the capacity to do it better!)

Important note: Pain is part of the process! (mentally and physically). You can’t make a muscle without tearing a few fibers!

For most of us, our proudest achievements come in the face of our greatest adversity. I know that when I’m feeling lazy and I squat 20kg I feel alright…but when I manage to push myself and squat 55kg (closer to my 1RM), I feel like I just earnt athlete status! This usually involves some stern positive self-talk at the time, and some muscle soreness the next day. Neither are comfortable, but both build resilience, strength and capacity. Both also build my motivation to exercise!

 

The “just do SOMETHING” Principle

To come full circle; action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it is also the cause of it.

Most of us only commit to action if we feel a certain level of motivation. And we feel motivation only when we feel enough emotional inspiration. We assume it’s a chain reaction.

The thing is, it’s not a chain, it’s an endless loop.

If we start doing something, this sparks inspiration, and then before we know it, we have motivation, and so we keep doing that thing (all the while, improving and feeling more confident) and then we feel inspired to challenge ourselves a little further, and look at that – more motivation!

Tim Ferris (American author) spoke of a story he once heard about a novelist who wrote over seventy novels. Someone asked how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated. He replied, “two hundred crappy words per day, that’s it.”

The idea was that if he forced himself to write two hundred crappy words, more often than not, the act of writing would inspire him; and before he knew it, he’d have thousands of words down on the page.

 

Take home messages to improve your motivation to exercise:

  • Pick small, achievable tasks or challenges
  • Do SOMETHING. Something is better than nothing! (and it breeds motivation to do more)
  • Make sure the way you’re measuring your success comes down to your actions and input (not other, external factors)

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