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Exercise Can Help You Battle Your Depression

As Little As 30 Minutes of Exercise Can Improve Symptoms of Depression

Can exercise ease the symptoms of depression? Yes, and according to a study published in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation , “the effect of exercise may be comparable to antidepressant medication and psychotherapy” for treating mild to moderate depression and “seems to be a valuable complementary therapy to the traditional treatments” for severe depression.

Read on to learn more about exercise as a reliable intervention to help improve mood and mental health.

How does exercise help?

  • It releases endorphins, your brain's feel-good chemicals that enhance your sense of well-being.
  • It can help you gain confidence. By setting and achieving exercise goals, even small or moderate ones, you boost your self-confidence.
  • It can provide you with social interaction. Whether you're taking a spin class or just taking a spin around the block with friends, exercise affords you the opportunity to exchange friendly or encouraging words, or even just a smile, with others.
  • It allows you to cope in a healthy way. Exercise provides you a way to do something positive to manage your depression.

Do I have to go the gym?

According to the Mayo Clinic , research shows that physical activity such as regular walking — not just formal exercise programs — may help improve mood.

So, no, you don't have to join the gym to reap mood-lifting benefits. All you've got to do is lift some weights, play some hoops, take a walk with the dog, or even just get out in the garden. “Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood,” according to Mayo .

How much exercise is enough?

Thirty minutes or more three to five times a week is the sweet spot, according to research. But that doesn't mean that 10 or 15 minutes won't have a positive effect. Even small steps that up your physical activity can have an impact. Going to the grocery store? Park father away. Going to work? Take the stairs rather than the elevator.

And you don't have to do it all at once. If you don't have 30 minutes to devote to exercise, or if 30 minutes seems daunting, three 10-minute sessions of exercise or activity also can provide positive results. And depending what activity you choose, those shorter durations might be enough to lift your spirits. It might take less time to improve your mood when you do more-vigorous activities, such as running or bicycling.

The key, no matter what exercise you choose or how many minutes you choose to do, is sticking with it. “The mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity may last only if you stick with it over the long term,” according to Mayo .

How do I stick with it?

The key to sticking with any routine is to ensure you're doing something you enjoy. If you hate the water, then swimming laps is not going to be your exercise solution and will feel more like punishment than self care.

To make exercise or activity a routine, you need to like what you're doing. So before you make your workout plan, consider what you like. If you want to spend time with your kids, make an after-dinner walk part of your family routine. If you take pride in your flowers, make spending time in the garden part of your morning ritual.

Having support also can help you make exercise a regular part of your life. Enlist your family and friends to be a part of your routine and act as cheerleaders; and talk to your therapist or physician about how an exercise regimen can fit into your overall treatment plan.

Also key to successfully creating an exercise routine is setting realistic and achievable goals. Don't set your sights on running a marathon before you set your sights on running a mile -- you'll only be disappointed when you don't reach your goal. Work up to running your marathon incrementally, with achievable milestones along the way that will keep you striving to reach the next one.

Being mindful of the present moment also can help exercise feel like a reward. If your routine is to take a daily walk, make sure to smell the flowers along the way and enjoy the view. Being in the moment can help you foster your sense of gratitude and put your focus on the good things in life.

Don't be too hard on yourself

The Mayo Clinic advises to be prepared for setbacks and obstacles and to give “yourself credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. If you skip exercise one day, that doesn't mean you can't maintain an exercise routine and might as well quit.”

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