Exercising The Blues Away
We have been told by many reliable sources how beneficial physical activity is for our health, including the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Because of the importance of exercise to the health of all Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services came out with the in-depth 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans with science-based guidelines for ages six to adult for appropriate physical activity. It was updated in 2013 and 2018. Click here to see the update.
Why this emphasis? Just look at the many health benefits physical activity provides:
1. strengthens the heart
2. lowers blood pressure
3. increases energy levels
4. improves muscle tone and strength
5. strengthens and builds bones
6. helps reduce body fat
There is a growing amount of research that shows how exercise can also help improve symptoms of certain mental health conditions, including mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Research indicates that it may take at least 30 minutes of exercise a day for at least three to five days a week to significantly improve depression symptoms. Before you think this is too much time to fit into your schedule, an even smaller amount of activity such as 10-15 minutes at a time can improve mood in the short term.
Exactly how exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety is not fully understood. We do know that when you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body. So, those of us who have only thought of exercise to lose weight or look fit, exercise can also:
1. boost the feel-good endorphins
2. boost self-esteem
3. help release muscle tension
4. help us sleep better
5. reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol
6. increase body temperature (may provide calming effects)
All these different changes in the mind and body can improve such symptoms as sadness, anxiety, irritability, stress, fatigue, anger, and hopelessness.
What type of exercise you choose is not as important as choosing one that you enjoy and will “stick with.” We tend to forget that even our daily activities are also forms of exercise, such as walks with the dog, gardening, housework, or biking. While some of us may want to begin a more strenuous program such as light jogging, running, or weight training, remember to get your doctor’s approval before beginning a regular exercise program.
PLEASE REMEMBER! If you exercise regularly but depression or anxiety symptoms still interfere with your daily living, seek professional help. Exercise is not meant to replace medical treatment of depression or anxiety. Talking to your doctor or a mental health professional helps provide you with a chance to talk with someone about additional coping techniques to help you become healthier. So, do not hesitate to seek help as you improve both your physical and emotional health.