The title of today’s blog is, “Does Exercise Really Heal Depression. In my experience the answer is a definite “yes.” Over the past fifteen years of facilitating depression support groups, I have had dozens and dozens clients tell me over and over that physical activity raises their mood, whether it is taking a walk in the neighborhood or going for a three mile run. They say that after they exercise, the brain fog of depression lifts from their mind. They feel more alert, energized, and thus in a better mood.
The New York Times reported that recent study concluded that moderate exercise, if it was moderately strenuous such as brisk walking, jogging, hiking or going for a bike ride had quote “A large and significant effect” unquote against depression. At the conclusion of the article, the head researcher said, “The main message from all of these studies is that to maintain their mental health, people should be as active as possible.
Of course, when a person is depressed, this is easier said than done. The biggest complaint I hear from my clients is that they can’t find the motivation to do exercise. I have found two ways to overcome this. The first is to pick an exercise that you like to do, the one that you enjoy. Think of the e in exercise as standing for enjoy. This enjoyable activity could be walking, running, cycling, swimming, doing the martial arts, resistance training, etc.
My second strategy is to work out with another person. It is so much easier to go to the gym if you have some company. I have two stories that illustrate this. (Tell stories of walking girls and David, John and Ed, three retired men who were members of my support group). Eventually he began to look forward to their weekly routine and when they arrived at his house at 9am, he was waiting for them with a fresh pot of coffee.
In conclusion, dozens of more studies have shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as well as antidepressants. This is why the head of the APA recently suggested that every psychiatrist should write on his prescription pad, in addition to medication, 30 minutes of exercise every day. Exercise lifts the mood as well as drugs, it is quicker acting, and the only side effects are a healthy heart and greater vitality.