I feel like every time I turn around, someone is touting the many benefits of exercise—just 30 minutes of moderate activity a day is supposed to lower the risk of breast cancer, raise levels of good cholesterol and cut your risk for developing heart disease.
Physical exercise benefits more than just the body. Aerobic activity can help improve memory and mood and has been shown through countless studies to have a positive effect on depression. Exercising releases endorphins, a feel-good brain chemical with morphine-like qualities, as well regulates neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that are lowered during depression.
If energy and motivation are obstacles to starting an exercsie routine, begin with a less intense exercise, such as yoga. Photo By lululemon athletica/Courtesy Flickr.
While exercise provides an immediate boost to our mood, maintaining a consistent exercise routine has long-term positive effects on brain chemistry. Scientists at the University of Georgia discovered that a few weeks of exercise activated genes that control the brain’s level of galanin, a neurotransmitter that controls the body’s response to stress by releasing norepinephrine. The researchers concluded that exercise makes the brain more resistant to stress—which in turn can help us manage our emotions better.
Because exercising requires energy and motivation—elements distinctly lacking in those suffering from depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder—it can be one of the most difficult lifestyle changes to make as part of the TLC program. Traditional forms of exercise, such as hopping on a treadmill or lifting weights, leave little to look forward to, making it difficult to keep up with an exercise routine.
Finding an activity that you're passionate about and asking friends to join you will help you stick with an exercise routine. Photo By Katie Harris/Courtesy Flickr.
The key to making exercise work as part of your lifestyle is to match it to your needs—in terms of both time and personality. If an elliptical machine isn’t your style, find a form of exercise that is! Enroll in a dance class, take kick boxing lessons, join an intramural sports league or swim laps—whatever fits your personality. Adding a social element to your exercise routine can also help you stick with it. (Social time is also a key component of the TLC program). Bringing friends into the mix will keep you accountable to a schedule—as well as turn exercising from a chore into something to look forward to. If low energy is the biggest obstacle for you, start with a less intensive (and therefore less daunting) form of exercise such as yoga. For an added mental boost, take your exercise outside. Fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for the spirit, and recent research has shown that exercising outside provides more mental benefits than exercising inside.
Remember: Exercising is not a cure-all for depression but one component of the TLC program’s natural approach to treating depression. Depression is a chronic illness; if you think you may have depression, please consult your doctor.
Read the original post, “Treating Depression Naturally: The Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Program.”