Better than antidepressants: Physical activity is a simple way to improve your mood

Exercise won’t stop you from dying, but it sure can make life worth living. The well-known health benefits of exercise seem almost incredible: improved blood sugar levels, a stronger heart, resilient muscles — the list goes on. But this silver bullet does a lot more than just improving your physical well-being. Research proves that it can even help you beat depression. In fact, physical exercise might even be just as, if not more, effective than antidepressants in getting rid of this mental disorder.

A 2004 study published in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that exercise improved treatment outcomes for depressed patients, showing similar results to pharmacologic therapy. The effects were two-fold, researchers say. Physical exercise reduces the amount and severity of inflammation in the body, a hypothesized contributor to clinical depression. Similarly, exercise sloughed off excess weight, reducing obesity, and consequently improving self-esteem and self-worth. This heightened sense of confidence negated depressive symptoms. Exercise is also proven to influence the production of feel-good hormones.

Depressed patients can begin feeling these effects with just a minimal change to their lifestyle; data show that merely walking for 10 minutes three to four times a week is enough to make a difference. (Related: The link between physical exercise and preventing depression.)

Another compelling study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that exercising regularly and consistently for 16 weeks staved off depression comparable to sertraline, an antidepressant. Stunningly, two-thirds of the observed patients in the exercise group went into remission after the four-month testing period. Authors of the study concluded that while “antidepressants may facilitate a more rapid initial therapeutic response than exercise, after 16 weeks of treatment exercise was equally effective in reducing depression among patients with major depressive disorder.”

Creating an exercise program that works

If dust bunnies are beginning to form around your person, it’s time to start moving. Exercise does not have to be scary or annoying. The best thing you can do for your health is to begin now and stick to a plan that works. Here are some tips that will help. (h/t to

  • Focus on what you love about yourself at the present — Most people exercise with a specific achievement in mind — a certain dress size, for example. However, obsessing about “problem areas” makes it easier for you to quit once you’ve achieved the goal. Weight loss experts suggest writing a list of the things you like about yourself now. This way, you can appreciate yourself even after you’re at the finish line.
  • Take selfies — This might seem horrible for camera-shy people, but selfies are a good way to accurately track your progress. Selfies help you identify your starting point and then define your goal. Try taking photos of yourself in tight but comfortable clothing and capture your body from all angles. Do this every two to four weeks to track your progress. You may also want to use a tape measure and track measurements in your biceps, waist, hips, bust, and thigh areas.
  • Take it easy — Give yourself a break. Don’t go berserk at the start. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to start small. If you haven’t exercised in a long time, don’t expect to be brilliant in a high-intensity interval exercise session immediately. Ease your way into exercise. Know that any movement is good movement. Try to commit to doing 10-minutes’ worth of exercise every day or walking for exercise three days this week. This helps you establish a habit that would be harder to break.
  • Find something you can stick with — There really is no “best” exercise program for everyone. Instead, wellness experts recommend finding an activity that you enjoy and will keep on doing. If you don’t want to go to the gym and prefer jogging around your area, do that instead. The important thing is having fun while losing weight.

Remember that maintaining a healthy weight is the best form of self-love and expression. Do this for yourself, and not for anyone else. Exercise will keep you physically fit and mentally strong.

Sources include: 1 2

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