dogDid you know over 3 million Australian’s reported having a mental health or behavioral condition. That’s nearly 14% of the country! That’s absolutely staggering considering that figure only includes those currently diagnosed. In reality, if you personally haven’t experienced a mental health disorder such as depression, there is no doubt that someone in your circle of friends has.

Spending time with a close friend, it is easy to see that depression doesn’t just affect your mood. It involves decreased feelings of self-worth and motivation levels for extended periods. My friend explained that the really debilitating factor is it sucks your ability to find even the simplest of pleasures in the world and everyday tasks become so much harder to finish. Add to that, depression physically affects how your body functions.  Changes in brain function, hormone levels and neurotransmitter actions can have serious implications on internal stress levels, appetite and sleep patterns. It really does affect your whole world and like the dark metaphor, the black dog lurks in the shadows, waiting to rear its ugly head.

At the moment commonly prescribed treatments for depression involve medications and behavioral therapies, but could we add physical activity to this list?

Current evidence has shown that getting the muscles moving and blood pumping has a moderate to large antidepressant effect (and don’t forget the other health benefits). Importantly, it plays a holistic role in preventing, treating and minimising risk of reoccurring episodes both acutely and long term. Interestingly, both aerobic and resistance training lead to natural neurochemical alterations. By acutely regulating hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol, exercise can decrease the stress levels. It also stimulates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which positively changes mood, pain levels and appetite perception. I could go into a raft of other structural changes within the brain, but let’s leave that for another day.

But what I think exercise is fantastic for is promoting feelings of well-being and self-efficacy. Learning to move your body, becoming stronger and fitter can give an individual the confidence in their own ability to exert control over their motivation and behaviours. This is something that depression can take away from you. So start moving your limbs in an effort to get the black dog off your back and running out of your life.