Posted by Claudia Grazioso on November 23, 2011
I am not exactly an exercise queen. I’m not particularly coordinated; I don’t have anything that is even remotely close to a matching workout outfit or even, for that matter, a fashionably mismatched outfit. I am a sweatpants and old t-shirt kind of girl. To top is all off, I don’t look good when I sweat. Frankly, after most workouts, I look like I’m dying. But fortunately, none of that interferes with my reaping the health benefits of exercise, and there are a lot of those. I always knew that exercise helped keep me in shape, and that it allowed me to continue to plunder my kids’ Halloween candy year after year. And I suspected that maybe it was helping to improve my mood because I haven’t had any out of the blue crying jags for a long time.
It turns out that wasn’t just a hunch. Regular exercise is now being considered as a way to help ease the symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety.
Recently, researchers and doctors began to look into the beneficial effects of exercise on mild to moderate depression — and the results seem positive so far. The scientific reasons seem to be connected to three things: Exercise results in the release of endorphins in your body. Endorphin release is connected to a positive outlook, optimism and more energy. They also interact and bond with brain receptors that are the same receptors that bond with pain medications, and so endorphins have the effect of reducing the perception of pain a person feels. This might be why runners at the end of marathons are always smiling: It’s not that a 26-mile run wasn’t grueling, it’s that they are don’t perceive it as such.
Another possibility of why exercise combats depression and anxiety is that regular exercise reduces the level of an immune system chemical in your body that can directly increase feelings of depression. Also, exercise raises your body temperature, which can have a soothing effect on your psyche. Additionally, researchers found that people who exercise regularly sleep better, have less anxiety and enjoy a better self-image. To get the full benefits of exercise, doctors recommend doing a moderate workout for twenty to thirty minutes a few times a week, and then gradually increasing.
Normally, doctors prescribed SSRI drugs for depression, and some people do benefit from those medications. But if you suffer from depression, it might be worth it to talk to your doctor about the benefits of regular exercise, too.