The Link Between Exercise and Depression | Escape Haven

Feeling Blue? Sweat It Out : The Link Between Exercise & Depression

For the past decade, depression has been on the rise across the world in all age groups in both men and women. In Australia alone, studies show that one million people now suffer from depression. While there are a wide range of treatments on offer- from meditation to medication- recent studies have shown that one of the most effective ways to help fight the blues is exercise.

A sweat session can go a long way in pivoting your mood and helping to address the often debilitating hold of depression. Past research has shown that active people have a significantly lower risk of developing the condition and that working out can also be an effective treatment. Even better news, is that recent research has now shown that the exact amount of exercise you need to help prevent and treat depression is actually much lower than initially thought.

A new study done in Australia and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, discovered that even a relatively small amount of exercise – from one hour per week – can help to prevent or support those with depression. Those 60 minutes come out to just 0.5 percent of your entire week, which seems like a pretty achievable goal for us all!

With sedentary lifestyles becoming the norm worldwide, and rates of depression rising rapidly, these results are particularly exciting as they highlight that even a small lifestyle change can offer significant mental health benefits.

How exactly does exercise help depression?

Many of us are familiar with the common physical benefits of exercise, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, lowering blood pressure, increasing lung capacity and maintaining a healthy weight balance. Yet exercise also has a powerful effect on our mood and emotional wellbeing. High-intensity exercise releases the body’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals called endorphins. Low-intensity exercise sustained over time has just as many positive benefits. This kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.

Our bodies and minds are designed to feel good when we work out. Everything that humans need to survive—food, water, sleep, social connections, sexual contact, deep breathing and physical activity—are all designed to release rewarding neurochemicals that encourage us to continue these behaviours on a regular basis.

So, where do I begin?!

Starting an exercise routine can be a little daunting. For those who may already be suffering from depression, it can be even more challenging. Depression manifests physically by causing disturbed sleep, reduced energy, appetite changes, body aches, and increased pain perception- all of which can result in less motivation to exercise. It’s a hard cycle to break, but the key is to just begin where you can. Even ten minutes a day of walking outside can be a great place to start. Soon, those ten minutes will begin to increase as your body and mind support you and rally in favour of your new healthy habits.

Here are some key pointers to start your fitness routine

Getting set up

You may want to make a few simple purchases to set you up for your new exercise routine. Having a good pair of running shoes is a great place to start. Be sure to pick shoes designed for the activity you have in mind. For example, running shoes are lighter in weight than cross-training shoes, which are more supportive and adaptable for various activities. For clothing, pick items that you feel comfortable in, that are lightweight and allow you to move freely. If you’re planning to invest in any exercise equipment, again, choose something that’s practical, enjoyable and easy to use. You may want to try out certain types of equipment at a fitness center before investing in your own equipment. Don’t forget how handy your smartphone can be for fitness apps or other activity tracking devices, such as ones that can track your distance, track calories burned or monitor your heart rate. There are also a plethora of online workouts, yoga classes, and other fitness inspired websites that allow you to workout in the comfort and privacy of your own home. For most of these, all you will need is a basic mat (like a yoga mat) and perhaps some light weights or resistance bands.

Start slow and build up

As you get started working out, think about long-term consistency. How many days a week can you realistically commit to exercising? Try to begin by scheduling just two workouts a week, these can be as short as 20 or 30 minutes. As you build up your fitness level, you can increase the frequency and length of your workouts or add in a third day. Plan your workouts at the most convenient times possible for you. For example, if you’re not a morning bird, don’t try and force yourself out of bed at 6am! If you work long daytime hours, perhaps a workout at the end of your day isn’t ideal either. Set yourself up for success by picking days and times you can really commit to. Make these times non negotiable- treat them just as you would any other appointment in your diary.

Pick something you enjoy

Exercise is much easier when you don’t have to force yourself to do it! When you think of exercise, many people conjure an image of sweat sessions in a stuffy gym. Choose ways to move your body that you actually get pleasure out of. Get out into nature and go for a long hike, jump in the ocean and try body surfing, or grab your girlfriend and head to a yoga class together. Get creative with ideas and think of ways to challenge your body that are fun.

Try new things

It’s also easy to get bored with your workouts if you are doing the same thing each day- even if it is something you tend to enjoy. Mixing up your physical activity not only keeps you motivated and inspired, it also helps to ensure you are working out in a smart way- diversifying and hitting all your major muscle groups, and not over-wearing any one part of your body. Take a leap and try different classes or studios- try yoga, pilates or crossfit. Join a walking group. Take up swimming or a team sport. If you join  gym, check out their class timetable or even schedule a few sessions with a personal trainer who can introduce you to new equipment or workouts. Just be sure to pick beginner based classes when you are trying something new- if you walk into an advanced class you may be turned off from coming back again! You can work your way up as you become more familiar with the classes.

Build activity into your daily routine

Let’s face it, despite our best efforts, sometimes finding time to exercise can be a challenge. Don’t forget that daily activity also counts. Working any physical activity into a daily routine is far better than doing nothing. Go for a walk on your lunch break, cycle to work instead of drive, walk down the street to grab your morning coffee or juice, take the stairs when you can, get into the playground with your kids rather than watch from the sidelines, wash the car rather than go through the car wash, make dates with friends that involve movement like walking or even shopping! Start getting used to the idea of moving with purpose and find creative ways to add activity into your days.

Find support

All of us are wired differently when it comes to exercise. For many of us, having that support or accountability is key to staying on track. Find a workout buddy that you can schedule your workouts or walks/runs with. Join a fitness group like a crossfit studio where the idea of working out as a group is a really core element of the program. Utilise a personal trainer especially at the beginning until you feel comfortable and confident to work out in your own time. Look at the community pages of your local papers for groups to join. Getting the whole family involved is also a fun way for you all to stay active and also connect in meaningful ways. On the weekends plan adventures like going kayaking, hiking or cycling. Having the support of those you love and/or professionals in the field is such a powerful way to stay committed and motivated.

Reward yourself

That sounds like the fun part- right? A reward doesn’t mean a tub of ice cream or block of family size chocolate! Reward your efforts by treating yourself to something special. Perhaps that could be a lovely massage (to soothe those muscles that have been working so hard!) Maybe it means a relaxing bubble bath. You could have a routine where you head out to your favourite cafe for a healthy morning brunch after a yoga class on the weekend. If you love setting goals, then reward yourself when you reach them. If you aim to workout three times a week- congratulate yourself when you reach that mark. It doesn’t need to be a huge reward, and it could just be once a month or every two months, but take the time to recognise how you are positively impacting your health and wellbeing. You deserve it.

If you’re looking to set new fitness goals, try some fun new workouts, train in a supportive group environment and with qualified personal trainers, join us for Renew Fitness Retreat in Bali! Reach your goals and boost your mindset. Return home with the motivation and knowledge you need to stay committed to your new fitness routine. Check out the details of our Fitness Retreat in Bali here. Or chat to our team here

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