Physical Activity Helps Reduce Depression and Anxiety | HeadsUpGuys

Physical activity is known to have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being [1]. While physical activity has always been associated with positive health benefits, it has only recently garnered attention as an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety. 

There is abundant evidence showing physical activity’s role in treating Major Depressive Disorder. One 2020 study of over 13,000 male participants in Australia showed: [2]

  • Men completing 2.5 hours per week of moderate-to-vigorous activity have 40% lower odds of experiencing mild to severe depression.
  • Increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity above 2.5 hours per week further reduces depression.
  • Replacing one hour of moderate activity (e.g., walking) with one hour of vigorous activity (e.g., running, hiking, etc.) reduces the odds of depression symptoms by 32%.  
  • Promoting physical activity is a low cost, low stigma intervention that can seriously improve men’s mental health outcomes.

This study is part of an emerging body of evidence that not only helps us better quantify the mental health benefits of physical activity, but also allows us to explore the underlying mechanisms that make physical activity a potent means of fighting depression. 

While it’s great to aspire to many hours of physical activity per week, everybody has to start somewhere and the positive mental health benefits of getting active are by no means ‘all or nothing’. 

Regardless of our current fitness or physical activity experience, the first step is getting up, getting moving and building from there. Starting with just 20 minutes of physical activity can help us manage or prevent symptoms of depression [3].

How Does Physical Activity Help?

Research shows that physical activity has antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects that operate in a number of different ways, both over the short and long term. In the short term, exercise can:

  • Increase the activity of neurochemicals and hormones in beneficial ways. These include neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and the chemicals that contribute to the feeling of a runner’s high (endocannabinoids), as well as hormones like endorphins [4,5,6].
    • Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain, and their activity changes in negative ways in people with depression. Many antidepressant medications specifically target these neurotransmitters, especially serotonin.
    • Endorphins are chemicals (hormones) with anti-inflammatory properties that act to relieve pain and reduce stress. 

Over the long term, exercise can:

  • Contribute to a reduction in chronic inflammation.
  • Increase natural proteins in our body (called growth factors) [7] that promote the growth and strength of cells and tissues, including the development of new brain cells, a process that typically declines with depression [8]

Exercise can also help improve our:

  • Physical self-perception and body image.
  • Social life, by providing the potential for more social interactions (exercising with friends, or interacting with others at the gym or park)
  • Sense of self-confidence and resilience as we take action to improve our health.
  • Connection to nature. Time spent outdoors in nature is associated with a lower risk of depression. 

Types Of Physical Activity For Better Mental Health

Any level of physical activity can help fight depression, but a more formal and routine-based approach may have the most benefits. Here are the types of physical activity that have been studied in terms of their ability to combat depression.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise includes any vigorous activity that increases heart rate and respiration.  This type of physical activity is great for the body and brain, and can help alleviate stress and depression symptoms [9].

Examples include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging or running
  • Cycling 
  • Swimming
  • Yoga 
  • Dancing
  • Hiking

Resistance Training

Research also demonstrates that resistance training may be for reducing symptoms of mental health conditions, though the evidence is not as strong as it is for cardiovascular exercise [10,11]

Examples include:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Lunges
  • Planks

Group Physical Activity

Group physical activity is a potentially powerful tool to improve one’s mental health, as it combines physical activity with social connection [12]

Having others to enjoy physical activity with can help keep us consistent and provide some extra motivation. 

Examples include:

  • Team sports (basketball, soccer, football, rugby, tennis, volleyball, badminton, softball)
  • Frisbee or throwing a baseball around with friends
  • Yoga classes
  • Fitness classes
  • Going on a brisk walk, jog, or bike ride with a friend

For more examples on how to use physical activity to improve your mental health, please see our guide on How to Use Physical Activity to Fight Depression or our article with 5 Tips to Tackling Depression through Physical Activity.

Ease Into It

With any physical activity there is a risk of injury, so please make sure to stretch and ease into any new exercise routines. 

Some guys feel pressure to perform at a higher caliber when they join a new group activity and may push themselves and their bodies too far too quickly, resulting in pulled or strained muscles or other injuries. 

When getting physically active to improve your mental health, it’s not about how many reps you can do or the scores of the games, it’s about getting your heart rate up, breathing deeply and simply enjoying the process. 

Make sure to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before you start so your body is loose and ready to go. Dynamic stretches like arm and ankle circles, hip openers and leg swings are helpful.

The Bottom Line

A strong body of evidence suggests that physical activity may mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

  • This is done through a number of mechanisms in the brain, namely through changing brain chemistry, promotion of brain growth factors, and birth of new brain cells. 
  • The majority of evidence points to the benefits of cardiovascular exercise in promoting mental health, though an emerging body of research suggests that other forms of activity, such as resistance training, can help to mitigate symptoms. 
  • Also, physical activity in a group setting has additional benefits, as it capitalizes on the power of social connection.  
  • For some men, the benefits of physical activity alone may be enough to help them manage symptoms of depression. For others, physical activity can be a great compliment to other forms of intervention like therapy and/or medication. The most important thing is to find the forms of physical activity that work best for you and consistently get your body moving.

For more tips on how to incorporate more physical activity into your life, see our Guide to Physical Activity.

Source link

Home  Articles  Disclaimer  Contact Us