Benefits of Exercise for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

The benefits of regular exercises cannot be stressed enough. Exercise provides a wide variety of benefits for our health and plays a massive role in ensuring our overall well-being. Exercise can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases. At the same time, exercising regularly also strengthens and activates your immune system, helping you fight off infections. Exercise has also been shown to help people who have a major depressive disorder (MDD). Major depressive disorder, commonly known only as clinical depression, has today become a common illness. Putting in place an exercise routine can have a positive effect on both your mental and physical health. Here are some of the benefits of exercise for major depressive disorder (MDD).

Benefits of Exercise for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder, commonly known as clinical depression, has today become a common illness, with more than 15 million adults in the United States alone having a major depressive attack every year. (1) The symptoms of clinical depression tend to vary from person to person, but generally include the following:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite

There are many effective treatments available for depression, such as taking antidepressants, counselling, and psychotherapy, amongst others. However, at the same time, it is also essential that you make certain healthy lifestyle changes to come out of depression. (2)

Exercise can have a substantial positive effect on your mental health. While it is, no doubt, difficult to start and stick to an exercise routine when you are feeling depressed and lack motivation, but even starting with just five to ten minutes of exercise daily can help bring about an improvement in your condition. You will see that you are gradually able to increase the intensity and duration of your exercise routine. (3)

Here are some of the main benefits of exercise for people with major depressive disorder.

Exercising Helps Diverts Your Mind

If you are diagnosed with major depressive disorder, then it is likely that you are prone to obsess over all the negative aspects of your life. This usually includes overthinking each and every mistake made and worrying about a wide range of problems that are unlikely to ever happen.

It is essential to know that your brain has the capability to only focus on one thought at any given time. So if you are feeling sad and suffering from low-esteem, then refocusing your thoughts by exercising can help overturn a negative mood. (4) It also takes your mind off your problems, and you will notice that you feel much more relaxed and recharged after your exercise session. (5)

Helps You Cope With Anxiety

Exercising regularly is known to help you deal with anxiety. Exercise is responsible for increasing the production of serotonin and dopamine in the body. These are neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating similar bodily functions such as the brain’s pleasure and reward systems, mood, sleep, alertness, emotions, and even cognition and concentration. (6)

People who experience anxiety attacks are well aware that anxiety can cause an increase in their heart rate, heavy breathing, and sweating – all of which are nearly identical responses induced by exercise. Due to this, regular exercise helps teach the body how to cope with stressful situations. (7)

If you leave your anxiety uncontrolled, then it can eventually result in a panic attack. However, when you are exercising regularly, your body becomes used to this response and starts to automatically associate this response with safety and exercise, instead of danger. The American Psychological Association recommends exercise as a means to control your anxiety as regular exercise makes it easier for your body to remain calm during a stressful event. (8)

Exercise Works as a Natural Antidepressant

Regular exercising increases the production of certain helpful chemicals in your brain due to which exercise is sometimes also said to be a natural antidepressant. (9)

When you are exercising, your brain increases the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that help reduce pain. At the same time, exercising also puts you in a happier mood and helps you manage stress. The more you exercise, the higher will be the level of endorphins in the body.

Endorphins are often known as the ‘feel-good’ chemicals of our body since they not only act as a pain reliever but also as a happiness trigger. Studies have found that people who have lower levels of endorphins are more likely to have depression. (10) In one particular study, researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to look at athlete’s brains before and after exercise. The study found that there was a significant increase in the production of endorphins after exercise. (11)

Even a small amount of physical activity every day can help increase the levels of endorphins in the body, thus alleviating some of the symptoms of major depressive disorder.

How Can You Exercise to Manage Major Depressive Disorder?

The most important fact to keep in mind is that even a small amount of physical activity can help improve the symptoms of clinical depression. You do not have to spend hours exercising every day to reap the benefits of exercising. Just a small amount of activity done each day can make a significant difference to your overall attitude and change your negative mindset.

If due to your depression, you have not been working out for some time, then it is best to start slowly so that you don’t injure yourself. You can simply start with just 10 minutes of activity a day and then gradually increase it up to 30 minutes each day for at least four to five days a week. Some of the best exercises for managing major depressive disorder include:

Indulge in an activity that you enjoy so that you are able to stick to it and don’t give up out of boredom.

Conclusion

Exercise has many positive effects on your body. It is beneficial for your physical as well as your mental health. Regardless of whether you are already taking antidepressants or undergoing other treatment for managing the major depressive disorder, adding exercise to your everyday routine will benefit you immensely. There is no rule that says you have to enroll in an exercise class or join a gym in order to benefit from exercise. Even walking around the block for 10 minutes can help change our mood and take your mind off negative thoughts. However, it is always recommended that you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine.

References:

  1. Nami.org. 2020. Depression | NAMI: National Alliance On Mental Illness. [online] Available at: <https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression>[Accessed 18 May 2020].
  2. Belmaker, R.H. and Agam, G., 2008. Major depressive disorder. New England Journal of Medicine, 358(1), pp.55-68.
  3. Fava, M. and Kendler, K.S., 2000. Major depressive disorder. Neuron, 28(2), pp.335-341.
  4. Yeung, R.R., 1996. The acute effects of exercise on mood state. Journal of psychosomatic research, 40(2), pp.123-141.
  5. Steptoe, A. and Bolton, J., 1988. The short-term influence of high and low intensity physical exercise on mood. Psychology and Health, 2(2), pp.91-106.
  6. Meeusen, R. and De Meirleir, K., 1995. Exercise and brain neurotransmission. Sports Medicine, 20(3), pp.160-188.
  7. Hadjicharalambous, M., Kilduff, L.P. and Pitsiladis, Y.P., 2008. Brain serotonin and dopamine modulators, perceptual responses and endurance performance during exercise in the heat following creatine supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5(1), p.14.
  8. Apa.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx> [Accessed 18 May 2020].
  9. Thorén, P., Floras, J.S., Hoffmann, P. and Seals, D.R., 1990. Endorphins and exercise: physiological mechanisms and clinical implications. Medicine & science in sports & exercise.
  10. Halbreich, U. and Endicott, J., 1981. Possible involvement of endorphin withdrawal or imbalance in specific premenstrual syndromes and postpartum depression. Medical Hypotheses, 7(8), pp.1045-1058.
  11. Boecker, H., Sprenger, T., Spilker, M.E., Henriksen, G., Koppenhoefer, M., Wagner, K.J., Valet, M., Berthele, A. and Tolle, T.R., 2008. The runner’s high: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cerebral cortex, 18(11), pp.2523-2531.

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