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FIGHT DEPRESSION WITH FITNESS

Written by RACHEL LIVINGSTONE
Photo-Oct-30-8-00-15-PM FIGHT DEPRESSION WITH FITNESS | Health Hub

1 in 5 people aged 16-85 years, experience depression and other associated disorders. Yet 65% of them will not access treatment due to a lack of resources or social stigma. In view of this the role of exercise as an alternative treatment becomes all the more important. It is not only food for thought, but nourishment for the soul to know research has found 3 truths:

For an inactive person, only a very small increase in activity level elicits an improvement in mood.

The more exercise a person suffering from depression does, the better the outcome.

The higher the level of depression, the stronger the positive response to exercise is.

Depression is a complicated issue. Sometimes it is triggered by a life event such as bereavement, divorce or job loss. Sometimes The Black Dog just seems to move in for no apparent reason – and for an extended and unwelcome stay.

In recent years we have seen increased understanding of the hereditary component of depression. However, research is also starting to reveal that our daily lives – both work and play, are doing us no favours in the battle against the black cloud. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine has found a significant link between prolonged periods of sitting and sedentary lifestyles and depression. Those who sit for 7 or more hours per day and do not engage in exercise are at the greatest risk. Ironically, those suffering from depression are less likely to take up physical activity, thereby creating a vicious cycle.

Beyond the obvious reasons of creating distraction, socialising with others and improved self-image, it is somewhat unclear exactly why exercise has such a powerful effect on depression. One suggestion is that strenuous exercise causes the secretion of chemicals called beta endorphins which affect mood and reduce the brain’s perception of pain. It is also suggested that as fitness levels improve so too does the perception of the effort needed to perform daily tasks. Similarly, there is an associated sense of mastery as people learn new skills and improve their self-efficacy.

Movement can make the brain and body feel happier. It can change both your body and your outlook. However, the ‘feel the burn’ and body beautiful messages offered by much of the fitness industry do little to entice the depressed person to join in. The tide is turning though. Many trainers realise that just as we adapt our sessions for those who are pregnant, recovering from injury or managing a health condition, exercise is more about feeling alive and powerful, full of self esteem and a sense of wellbeing, for the person trying to break free from depression.

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