In this week’s series on understanding depression, let’s talk about fitness. While there’s no doubt that fitness is essential to our overall wellness, the link between fitness and mental health is often overlooked. On an average, someone suffering from depression gets half as much as physical activity as the average person. Depression is often characterized by the feeling of ‘I can’t get out of bed this morning’, a general sense of exhaustion, and too much or not enough sleep. All these factors contribute towards the lack of physical activity, which can intensify the sense of anxiety and isolation. Also, depression sufferers could miss out on getting the necessary levels of vitamin D without enough exercise outdoors.
When one is feeling blue, their daily routine can go haywire. Making time for exercise every day ensures that one has a routine in place. Exercise schedules and nutrition schedules also go hand in hand. Having a time set aside for exercise means people are more likely to have breakfast and eat adequately. This ensures that energy levels stay up and this keeps mood swings at bay. Depression can come with a sense of under achievement, and sticking successfully to a healthy schedule can contribute towards feeling good about oneself.
Exercise releases endorphins in your brain which transmit the natural ‘high’ of physical activity. Exercise also increases the level of the neurotransmitter Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin produces the ‘happy’ feelings in our brain and low levels of serotonin have been found to exacerbate depression. Exercise can produce a harmonious balance of serotonin and endorphins, ameliorating depressive feelings.
Exercise also means exposure to the outdoors. Running, cycling or hiking in nature has been found to be particularly stimulating to the brain. Exercise in scenic environs reduces stress levels and gives one the tranquil moments often missing in our noisy cities. Depression is notorious for isolating sufferers and affects socializing with friends and family. Exercising with a companion can be a great way of reconnecting with someone along with the satisfaction of accomplishing something healthy together.
Maintaining an exercise schedule also organizes one’s life, leads to healthy eating and goal setting. All these factors go a long way towards improving one’s quality of life. The better you feel about yourself, the better you are at coping with depression.
By no means does this mean that one has to hit the gym on a daily basis! Even moderate exercise five times a week has been shown to be beneficial. Once you find your rhythm, you might even find the motivation to push yourself – like signing up for a marathon or joining a cycling club! The point is to not grow a six pack, but learning to enjoy the pleasurable experiences that come with exercise. Fitness is beyond the body, fitness is about using your body as an instrument to find balance in life.
Depression can make one feel like they are losing out. With fitness, one can feel like they are getting more of life. Every day. One stride at a time.