Exercise – A Natural Antidepressant

Exercise – A Natural Antidepressant

When you are dealing with anxiety or depression the last thing you feel like doing is exercising.  But if you do it, it can make a huge difference in how you feel.  And the mood boosting benefits can start just 5 minutes into a moderate workout.  Everyone knows the physical health benefits associated with regular exercise, but did you know it can also improve your mood?  Working out on a regular basis can help decrease depression and anxiety as well as help prevent it from returning in the future.  People who have recovered from depression are less likely to suffer a relapse if they exercise regularly.

How does it work?  For one thing exercise stimulates the release of endorphins – “feel good” brain chemicals.  These neurotransmitters are involved in producing a sense of well-being as well as treating pain.  Exercise also increases body temperature and improves circulation which can facilitate a sense of relaxation as well as improve attention and concentration.  Recent research has found that regular workouts might help people with anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience “fight or flight” sensations.  Exercise in some ways is like exposure therapy and people learn to associate the symptoms of increased heart rate, perspiration, etc. with safety instead of danger.

Grow or Decay?  You make the choice.

We all know the physical health benefits of regular exercise like the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes.  But exercise also benefits your body at the cellular level.  Your body is made up of trillions of cells that live for only a few hours, days, weeks or months at time.  Every day your body replaces 1% of its cells.  So you have a brand new body every 3 months!  You get the make the choice about whether your new cells come in strong or weak.  If you exercise the cells come in strong but if you are sedentary the cells decay.  When you exercise your muscles release substances that travel in your blood stream and tell your cells to grow.  Sedentary muscles send out decay signals.  Our bodies are designed to move.  This is true whether you are in your 20’s or in your 90’s.  Most adults can double their leg strength within 3 months of starting to exercise.  You can also reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack by 75% – 80% just by exercising.  So make the choice, grow or decay.

Walking for Health

Walking is one of the easiest ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.  You can do it alone, with other people, or with your dog.  You can take a long walk or a short walk.  Be creative.  Park at the far end of the parking lot when you go to the bank or grocery store.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Do a lap around your block or your building at lunch time.

 One of the easiest ways to track your walking is to strap on a pedometer.  It will track every step you take and provide you with immediate feedback on your activity level.  Create a contest with a group of friends or co-workers to see who takes the most steps.

Gear and Weather

Make sure you have a good set of walking shoes or sneakers.  You want proper arch support, a firm heel, and soles that are thick yet flexible.  Wear comfortable clothing.  If you walk in the evening always consider safety by walking with a friend and/or wearing bright clothing.  Don’t let the weather stop you.  Grab an umbrella for the rain, your parka for the snow, and sunscreen for those hot sunny days.  Be cautious in icy conditions and consider walking at the mall or doing an indoor work-out when snow and ice are treacherous.

Burn calories

The amount of calories you burn while walking is largely determined by your weight and the distance you walk.  A good rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile for a 180 lb. person and 65 calories per mile for a 120 lb. person.  Don’t worry too much about speed.  Focus on distance.  But as you get more fit, try to increase your speed to a 13 minute mile and you will burn even more calories.  Your legs will also be strong and beautiful!