By Jeremy Mirsky, PhD
Reliant Medical Group Behavioral Medicine
When you’re feeling depressed, exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do. But once you get going, aerobic exercise (“cardio”) can make a huge difference in the way you feel.
In fact, some studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as many common medications used to treat depression. Plus exercise has many other health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, protecting against heart disease, and reducing the risk of dementia. And it’s free!
Why does exercise for depression work so well? Scientists have long known that exercise enhances the action of endorphins, chemicals that circulate in the bloodstream and affect our mood. In addition, exercise also affects neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine, which can also enhance mood and feelings of well-being. Recent studies have suggested that exercise may exert its effect by decreasing inflammation (which is associated with depression) in the body. Exercise is also known to work well for those who are already taking antidepressant medications. Even more recent research suggests that exercise may help prevent stress from leading to depression.
So how much exercise do you need to improve your mood? Some research has shown that exercising according to public health recommendations (either 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, every week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging or running) is more effective in alleviating depression than less intense levels of exercise. But increasing exercise by any amount may help you to get out of a slump.
If you feel you are suffering from depression, you should talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about the best way to treat your symptoms, which might involve psychotherapy or medication. However, it’s great to know that simple exercise can be an important way to treat this common condition. If you currently take antidepressant medication, you should not discontinue it without consulting your doctor. You should also consult your doctor before beginning exercise.
About Jeremy Mirsky, PhD
After completing his postdoctoral residency in Florida, Dr. Jeremy Mirsky moved to New England. He practiced in Central Connecticut for a number of years, and then joined Reliant Medical Group in 2011. “One of the things that interested me in joining Reliant was that there was a specific Behavioral Medicine department here and a real commitment throughout the organization to using it to help patients,” he explains.
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