Treating Depression with Exercise

We often hear that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle. We know it is good for our heart health, that it can help prevent obesity and diabetes but what if I told you it can also help prevent and treat depression?

In a culture that is more and more removed from personal interaction, depression is on the rise, particularly in young people. We have become more sedentary and isolated which has only exacerbated the obesity epidemic in America. We often focus on exercise as a way to help us lose or maintain a healthy weight but it is so much more than that. Our bodies were designed to move.  Even mild exercise can increase endorphins and improve your health, your mood and your sleep. For those suffering from mild or seasonal depression, incorporating daily exercise, even just a long walk around the block, can be the difference between needing an antidepressant or not.

I suffered from depression in my mid twenties and getting on an antidepressant was a god-send. Once I was on it and things started balancing out,  I actually felt like I could think about taking care of myself again. Exercise had always been a huge part of my life, one which I let slip away as things got busier and more stressful.  I noticed that once exercise became routine again I was able to talk to my doctor about lowering my prescription. As the years went on I had several children and needed the help of antidepressants off and on, particularly postpartum.  I grew to really dislike the side effects, not the least of which for me, was weight gain. There is nothing quite like fighting depression -- much of it centered around your body image -- and needing a medicine that makes it even harder to lose weight.  I talked to my doctor about the possibility of getting off the meds altogether. He suggested we wean off slowly and begin incorporating some form of exercise everyday and see how it went. I soon realized that for me, exercise was the key to my mental health.  Not only did it allow me to get off the antidepressants -- it helped me reach my weight loss goals, improve my overall health and find new peace in the body I was given.

As a plus, new studies show that people diagnosed with depression who maintain a high level of fitness in middle age are significantly less likely to die from heart disease later in life.  Depression diagnoses are often linked to a higher mortality rate from things like heart disease and diabetes, but in a study published by JAMA Psychiatry “participants with high fitness were 56 percent less likely to eventually die from heart disease following a depression diagnosis” *

Depression is a genuine illness and should always be taken seriously and discussed with your doctor; but you can take charge of your mental health as well as your physical health, and the two are inextricably connected.  If exercise does not come easily to you, start small and build up. Find a walking buddy, play Pokemon Go with your kids, find a rec center and join a class, just get your body moving. Don’t make it about your weight, make it about your mood, about the endorphins your brain craves. You might be surprised at how much it changes your body and your mental health.

*Quote taken from, September issue of “Center Times” “For those with depression, staying fit is vital to good health” by James Beltran

Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Liao, 972-566-2886