Depression affects over 40 million Americans, making it the most common mental health issue in the United States. Diagnosing depression is not simple as there is no conclusive physical test informing a doctor of the degree of your depression. Depression is rather diagnosed via qualitative questioning by the doctor about your symptoms (lack of energy, feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, no motivation). Complications are further added as the illness does not follow one particular path to a cure.
There are various antidepressant drugs affecting patients differently. A drug which has a positive influence on one patient may have a completely opposite outcome on another one. When it comes to antidepressants, it’s pretty much touch and go to find a combination of drugs which works best for your situation.
There is research, however, suggesting there is at least one common form of therapy positively working for everyone facing anxiety and depression. This therapy is exercise. Let’s repeat it again to be clear: exercise relieves depression.
Depression is all about chemical imbalances in your brain and exercise has been scientifically proven to increase the production of endorphins in your body. Endorphin is a hormone, similar to morphine, encouraging you to feel good and is related to positive mood. Often, people who have finished exercising feel elated and this effect helps ease your depressive symptoms. Endorphins also react with brain chemicals to decrease perceptions of pain. Together these benefits aid you to change your perception of life from a negative outlook to a positive one.
Another hormone and neurotransmitter influencing our mood is serotonin. Researchers believe depression is caused by an imbalance in serotonin levels. Although researchers cannot measure serotonin levels in the brain, they do know blood serotonin levels in depressed people are below average. Studies have proven workouts, especially cardio exercises, boost the production and release of serotonin, so research provides conclusive evidence that exercise relieves depression.
The hippocampus is a part of the brain which produces neurons. Clinically depressed patients are known to have hippocampus’ which are smaller than average. Researchers suggest this is due to a lack of new neuron production. Some studies have concluded a lack of neuron production can be a cause for depression. To boost production of new neurons, you need additional endorphins in your body and as outlined above, you can increase endorphins in your body by exercising.
Exercise has numerous other benefits which have a positive influence on people due to which researchers claim exercise relieves depression. The benefits include boosting your self-confidence, taking your mind off your worries, socializing with other people and feeling like you are fighting (and winning) against depression.