Best Exercise for Reducing Symptoms of Depression


There is some agreement among researchers and doctors that aerobic activity is the most effective exercise for reducing symptoms of depression.

The current consensus is that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5-7 days each week is enough to boost our supply of happy endorphins and neurotransmitters.

Keep in mind that aerobic exercise does not need to be intense to be effective. Any activity that bumps up our heart rate, such as vacuuming or cleaning out the garage, can help. Fast walking, running, biking, swimming, and skating are likely more aerobically efficient, but you can definitely work up a sweat pushing a vacuum.

Little depression research has been done using exercises such as Tai chi, qigong, or yoga (which might be why aerobic exercise seems to be the best; it is the type usually used in studies). There is much anecdotal evidence that these less aerobic activities are effective in reducing symptoms of depression, and some yoga classes are strenuous enough to be considered aerobic.

A Few Things Research Indicates About Exercise & Depression

  • There may be more benefit for those who go from no exercise to some type exercise than for those who add more exercise to their current regimen. More is not necessarily better.
  • The intensity of exercise may not make a significant difference in symptom reduction. Exercising regularly is significant for reducing symptoms.
  • It seems that people who keep a log of their exercise progress have an easier time exercising regularly.
  • Exercise stimulates the growth of our brain’s neurons, providing us with increased neural connections. Some researchers think that the higher level of connectivity helps alleviate depressive symptoms.

Six Tips For Exercising When You're Lethargic

  1. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start by creating a habit of exercising 5-10 minutes per day. When that becomes more comfortable, increase the workout time by five minutes, and so on.
  2. Choose activities you enjoy.
  3. Some movement is better than none. If it hurts to move, take a lethargic stroll around the block.
  4. If your mind is in a funk and refuses to allow exercise, watch something funny or interesting on TV to distract your mind from depressive thoughts. After 15-30 minutes of distraction, get up and get moving.
  5. Ask a friend who is not depressed to exercise with you regularly.
  6. Close your eyes and see yourself as a child running around on the playground, swinging, climbing, and laughing. Do this for a couple of minutes or more. See the blue sky and feel the sun on your arms and legs. Make your image as vivid as possible. This will stir the child within you who loves to move and have fun. It might help you get going.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, U.S. News Health


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