How to beat Depression with Exercise

The Theory

Exercise counters depression at almost every level. With regular exercise we become less anxious, less neurotic, less angry, less stressed, less cynical, less distrustful, more sociable, and more confident. How?

  • Exercise boosts norepinephrine, which boosts our feelings of self-esteem.
  • Exercise boosts dopamine, which boosts our motivation, attention, focus and satisfaction.
  • Exercise boosts serotonin, which enhances our mood and boosts our impulse control. It boosts our feelings of self-esteem and increases our capacity for learning.
  • Exercise boosts BDNF, which protects neurons against cortisol, the chemical released when we are under stress.

Exercise has been shown to work as well as the drug Zoloft against depression. The improvement isn’t as dramatic as the drug, but exercise performs better over the long-term, over about 6 months.

When we’re depressed, the brain stops adapting, it shuts down learning capacity at the cellular level. This means that we find it incredibly hard to work our way out of the hole. Depression is a form of hibernation. Instead of hibernating when food supplies are low, depression pushes us into hibernating when our emotions are low.

The Workout

  • Just 10 minutes exercise can lift your mood, but only briefly.
  • For best results, workout for 3-5 sessions per week.
  • Work at a high-intensity, 60-90% of your maximum heart rate.
  • As a rough guide, try to burn at least your Body Weight in lbs x 8 Calories per week. You can test yourself on gym equipment to get an idea of the values or use the calculator on this website: http://www.prohealth.com/weightloss/tools/exercise/calculator1_2.cfm.
  • Try to exercise with others too, then you’ll get the benefits of socialising as well. It will also give you the motivation to keep working.
  • Stick at it. Remember that exercise works best in the long-term, at least six months.

Information from this article is taken from Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

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