The Best Medicine is a Treadmill: How Daily Exercise Can Treat Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 7% of American adults live with depression.For context, this number represents over 17 million adults in the United States, with women being affected at higher rates and adolescents being affected at an even higher prevalence. It’s also worth mentioning that a major depressive episode is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With suicide rates rising at a staggering rate, it is hard to ignore the sobering reality that mental health is an area that is grossly underfunded and overtly neglected as a societal priority. NIMH reports that in 2017, of the over 17 million adults living with depression, approximately 35% received no treatment at all for symptoms. The number of adolescents with depression who did not receive any mental health treatment jumps to over 60%. We can debate for days as to the many reasons people do not seek or receive treatment- mental health is not prioritized, societal stigmas, disparities in access to treatment options and barriers that exist for people with a mental health diagnosis, particularly in minority communities … but we will save that for another post. In effort to be more solution focused, and provide people who may be struggling with depression who do not have access to treatment options, or who feel stigmatized to utilize the resources that are available, what are some natural, alternative methods to help combat some of the symptoms?

Currently, antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat people with moderate or severe depression. And while these drugs do offer some relief, some may have adverse side effects such as:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • trouble sleeping
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • weakness and fatigue
  • anxiety
  • stomach upset
  • dry mouth
  • sexual problems such as low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or ejaculation problems
  • trouble urinating
  • fast heart rate
  • sweating
  • memory problems
  • fatigue
  • weight gain

This is not to suggest that you should not take antidepressant medication if needed, or that you will experience all or any of these side effects. Generally, people seem to report tolerating antidepressant medication well. However, in my opinion, everyone should be empowered to make well-informed decisions for themselves when it comes to their bodies.

Whether you take medications or not, one of the best natural ways to help combat depression is through exercise. This can be used alone or in combination with medication or mental health therapy.

Exercise Helps Beat Depression Naturally

Studies on exercise and depression are conclusive: Not only does exercise treat depression, it can also prevent it. In fact, researchers from Duke University found exercise to be as effective as medicine.

Exercise not only increases blood flow to the brain, it also releases endorphins, which are the body’s own natural antidepressants. Exercise also releases other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which lift mood.

The really good news is, it only takes moderate exercise three times a week to reap the antidepressant benefits. You don’t have to train for a marathon or a triathlon to feel better. Here are a few exercise ideas to get you started:

Walk Your Dog

Take your dog(s) for a half hour walk around the neighborhood. Not only will your body release endorphins but your dog’s health will also benefit from routine exercise.

Go for a Bike Ride

Family bike rides are a great way to bond and get a good workout at the same time. If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor biking, a stationary bike is a good investment.

Swim

Swimming is one of the absolute best total body exercises. As a bonus, the steady movements through water also has a naturally calming effect.

Walk at Lunch

Grab a few friends and/or colleagues on your lunch break and go for a half hour walk.

Join a Gym

Sometimes we need a bit of a push to get ourselves moving. One way to accomplish this is seeing the $xx amount per month deducted from your bank account for a gym membership. Most of us do not like to waste money, so this in itself can be motivating to get to the gym and exercise. Whether you do this a solo activity, go with a friend or partner, or join a group class, gyms can offer the right fit for any personality from the extrovert to the most shy introvert.

Exercise doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Whatever form you like, commit to doing that at least three times a week and see if you don’t start to feel better.

You may also want to speak with a therapist, who can help you navigate your emotions and offer tools for coping. Some forms of depression are persistent and require the support of a mental health professional. If you’d like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

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