Does Exercise Prevent Depression?

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

When you are feeling anxious, stressed or depressed, exercise can significantly improve your emotional state. Several clinical studies have demonstrated that exercise has several health benefits. In addition to building muscle tone, lowering high blood pressure and reducing the side effects of arthritis, exercise can also reduce anxiety and improve your mood as well as your overall mental health. Working out can reduce stress and help you sleep better. Regular physical activity can make you emotionally resilient because it promotes neural growth and a sense of well-being.

Psychological Benefits of Exercise

Regular physical exercise makes you feel sharper and more relaxed. It also boosts self-esteem. During exercise, the body releases natural chemicals called endorphins. These neurotransmitters engage the opiate receptors in the brain reducing the perception of pain. They can also trigger a positive feeling after a workout, which is commonly known as the runner’s high. A more positive and energizing outlook on life can accompany the euphoric feeling. Exercise stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid system and the release of norepinephrine, which work directly to improve mood. Depression can shut down the brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Exercise counters this negative loop by boosting the production of brain-developed neurotrophic factor, a protein that helps neurotransmitters function. It enables people to emerge from depression and feel better. In some cases, exercise is as effective as prescription medications without the side effects typically associated with these drugs.

Exercise Tips for Depression

When creating a fitness regimen, select exercises that you enjoy so that you will not lose interest. Vary your routine. If working out is fun, you will be more likely to continue. For additional motivation, work out with a partner. The social interaction will also help combat the effects of depression. Begin by exercising for least 20 to 30 minutes at least three times per week. Studies indicate that exercising four to five times per week provides additional benefits. When exercise becomes part of your routine, it will change your lifestyle and help eliminate your depression. Maintaining a regular exercise program can also prevent you from relapsing.

Talk to a Doctor Before Beginning a Workout Regimen

You should schedule an appointment to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program. This is particularly important if you are over 50 or have a medical condition like diabetes or heart disease. During the appointment, your medical provider will offer guidance on where to start and how fast you should progress based on your individual circumstances.

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