Suffering from depression is like viewing the world through a gray lens. As you go through your daily routine, everything seems darker. Work is less fulfilling, sunny days are less enjoyable and you have no interest in hobbies and activities you once loved.
You’ve tried to snap out of it and shake off the depression, but to no avail. Maybe the anti-depressants your doctor provided made you feel worse. Or perhaps you’ve gone so far as to try alcohol or drugs to ease your depression symptoms.
Depression has a way of making you feel trapped. But there is a natural solution that can help you feel alive again: exercise. This article will explore how exercise combats depression and why it can be so effective.
What are the Effects of Depression?
First things first, let’s review what depression is and how it’s caused. In the simplest sense, depression is a mood disorder that effects how you think, feel and behave. It can include persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, break down your self esteem, make you feel worthless and even cause suicidal thoughts or actions.
While it’s not clear what causes depression, neuroscience has shown that depression affects three parts of the brain:
- The hippocampus – The hippocampus is responsible for the production and regulation of a hormone called cortisol during times of stress. Those with depression are exposed to increased levels of cortisol, which can lead to memory problems.
- The prefrontal cortex – The increased cortisol levels cause the prefrontal cortex to shrink, affecting an individual’s emotions and decision-making.
- The amygdala – In contrast, the increased cortisol levels cause the amygdala to enlarge. This negatively impacts a person’s sleep and activity patterns.
When these parts of the brain are affected, the physical symptoms of depression like trouble sleeping, an inability to concentrate or manage emotions, and a lack of energy occur.
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What Happens When You Exercise?
Depression may have significant effects on the brain, but so does exercise. In fact, research and studies have shown that regular exercise can actually improve brain health.
Let’s use cardio exercise as the example. When you participate in exercises like running, biking or swimming, you increase your heart rate. An increased heart rate pumps more blood and oxygen to the brain, which leads to increased production of neurons that help improve memory function.
Research has also found that exercise increases serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for regulating mood and information processing. In other words, exercise literally alters your brain to help you feel better.
How Does Exercise Fight Depression?
We know exercise is good for us, but does it provide enough value to counter the devastating effects of depression? The science suggests that it does.
Depression prevents the growth of neurons, which play a key role in important brain functions like memory. It shrinks the hippocampus and prevents healthy nerve cell growth. Exercise can actually reverse these effects by jumpstarting nerve cell growth and nerve cell connections to support the hippocampus, protect memory and decision-making functions and improve your mood.
Since depression affects your energy levels and takes away any interest in being active, the challenge is actually getting yourself to exercise to help relieve depression symptoms. If you’re struggling with depression and can’t seem to motivate yourself to exercise, join a running club, invest in a gym membership or schedule daily workouts with friends and family.
Exercising with a group or using the price of a gym membership as additional motivation can help you keep your depression at bay.
The Raleigh House Can Help You Fight Depression and Addiction
We know exercise isn’t going to magically cure your depression once and for all. It can still be an ongoing struggle, and maybe you turned to alcohol or drug abuse to cope with your symptoms. If this is the case, The Raleigh House offers dual diagnosis treatment to help you find more productive ways to cope with depression.
If you’re ready to overcome depression and addiction and get back to a happy, fulfilling life, fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs.