An­tide­pres­sants aren’t the only so­lu­tion when you’re feel­ing blue. Re­search shows that ex­er­cise can im­prove brain func­tion and mood

Amazing Wellness - - CONTENTS - By Jill Schild­house

Break A Sweat to Ease De­pres­sion An­tide­pres­sants aren’t the only so­lu­tion when you’re feel­ing blue. Re­search shows that ex­er­cise can im­prove brain func­tion and mood.


you’ve been feel­ing blue, chances are ex­er­cise is one of the fur­thest things from your mind — it’s nat­u­ral to seek out the com­fort of a Net­flix binge on the couch to take your mind off things, or to spend a lit­tle ex­tra time snooz­ing in bed. But move­ment, from tak­ing a walk to re­sis­tance train­ing, is be­ing hailed as a safe, non­drug al­ter­na­tive for eas­ing signs of de­pres­sion and other mood dis­or­ders.

“Ex­er­cise is good not only for the body, but re­search is show­ing it has an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­pac­ity to im­prove brain func­tion and mood,” says Robert Zem­broski, DC, DACNB, MS, au­thor of Re­build: Five Proven Steps to Move from Di­ag­no­sis to Re­cov­ery and Be Health­ier Than Be­fore (Harper Wave, 2018). “From cog­ni­tive de­cay in the ag­ing brain to al­le­vi­at­ing de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, ex­er­cise can im­prove brain health for a life­time.”


Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Academy of Fam­ily Physi­cians, nearly one in 12 U.S. adults re­ports hav­ing de­pres­sion. And while it may seem eas­ier to choose mood-al­ter­ing pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions, they of­ten come with an end­less list of po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous side ef­fects.

“Ex­er­cise rep­re­sents a cost-ef­fec­tive and eas­ily im­ple­mented in­ter­ven­tion for de­pres­sion with no real side ef­fects,” says Dr. Zem­broski. “For in­stance, data out of Cur­rent Be­hav­ioral Neu­ro­science Re­ports demon­strate that walk­ing showed far greater improve­ment in de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and stress-re­lated symp­toms for those who reg­u­larly walked than for those who didn’t.”

DE­PRES­SION. In a study

found in Psy­cho­so­matic Medicine, par­tic­i­pants were ran­domly as­signed to one of four groups for 16 weeks: su­per­vised ex­er­cise in a group set­ting; home-based ex­er­cise; an­tide­pres­sant med­i­ca­tion; or a placebo pill. At the end of the study, re­searchers found those as­signed to the aer­o­bic ex­er­cise group had the same im­prove­ments in de­pres­sive symp­toms as those tak­ing an­tide­pres­sant drugs. SLEEP. There is a strong link be­tween mood and sleep — some­thing you’re prob­a­bly acutely aware of af­ter even one sleep­less night. “One of the symp­toms of mood dis­or­ders like de­pres­sion and bipo­lar is sleep dis­tur­bance or in­som­nia,” says Emily Mendez, MS, EdS, a men­tal health ex­pert with On The Wagon. “Lack of sleep only makes ir­ri­tabil­ity and mood is­sues worse. Poor sleep can also in­ter­fere with cog­ni­tive pro­cesses, mak­ing it harder to make de­ci­sions and cope with ev­ery­day stres­sors.” A study in the jour­nal Men­tal Health and Phys­i­cal Ac­tiv­ity found that 150 min­utes of mod­er­ate to vig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity each week pro­vided a 65 per­cent improve­ment in sleep qual­ity.

CON­FI­DENCE. Physi­cians of­ten use low self-es­teem as an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor when di­ag­nos­ing de­pres­sion. “Ex­er­cise helps you feel more con­fi­dent and has so­cial ben­e­fits, as well,” says

Mendez. In fact, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity has been shown to both di­rectly and in­di­rectly im­prove self-es­teem.


If you’re won­der­ing how much ex­er­cise you need to im­prove men­tal health and boost your mood, there’s good news: You don’t need to spend hours on end in the gym or ex­haust your­self on your tread­mill. The Pri­mary Care Com­pan­ion says that just 30 min­utes of ex­er­cise three days a week is suf­fi­cient to im­prove men­tal health and be­gin al­le­vi­at­ing symp­toms of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

“As each per­son is dif­fer­ent based on phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties and sched­ule, it’s best to cre­ate an ex­er­cise plan and sched­ule that works for you,” says Dr. Zem­broski, who re­lies on high­in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing to boost his own mood and spur cre­ativ­ity. “For my pa­tients with anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, and/or cog­ni­tive chal­lenges, I sug­gest 30 min­utes of mod­er­ate ex­er­cise five to six times a week. Since we don’t want that to be­come stress­ful, I sug­gest they break the pro­gram into two 15-minute ses­sions, which works just as well. The point is to move the body with some ex­er­tion in or­der to ac­ti­vate the brain for bet­ter men­tal health.”

There is no one type of ex­er­cise that is bet­ter than oth­ers to im­prove men­tal health. For in­stance, a study of 30 peo­ple with clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Al­ter­na­tive and Com­ple­men­tary Medicine, found that tak­ing yoga classes twice a week may help ease de­pres­sion, thanks in part to deep breath­ing. These find­ings align with a Novem­ber 2016 study from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia that de­ter­mined breath­ing-based med­i­ta­tion prac­tice helps re­duce ma­jor de­pres­sive symp­toms.

Like­wise, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal in New York, aer­o­bic work­outs — such as jog­ging, row­ing, swim­ming or cross-coun­try ski­ing — can in­crease spe­cific feel-good chem­i­cals in the brain. These chem­i­cals, in­clud­ing en­dor­phins, adren­a­line, sero­tonin, and dopamine, are what pro­duce that so-called “run­ner’s high.”

“It’s im­por­tant to choose the type of ex­er­cise that you en­joy the most,” says Mendez. “Some peo­ple en­joy group ex­er­cise, and oth­ers pre­fer to work out alone. To get the most ben­e­fit, it is im­por­tant to choose some­thing en­joy­able.”

So, take a walk with in­tent to ex­er­cise (not just to smell the roses), hop on a bi­cy­cle, dance to your fa­vorite mu­sic, or try a yoga flow class — all of these ac­tiv­i­ties are sure to help boost mood and men­tal health.

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