How does physical activity versus an exercise regimen help reduce the adverse effects of depression and anxiety? Research indicates that even modest amounts of physical activity can make a difference.
Regardless the age or fitness level, physical activity and exercise are a powerful tool to feeling better.
Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. In other words, physical activity is moving the body and working the muscles so energy is being used instead of being in rest.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that all individuals incorporate some type of physical activity in their daily routine. AHA defines physical activity as “anything that makes you move your body and burn calories.”
A few examples of physical activity include walking, gardening, swimming, playing soccer, and dancing. To receive the health benefits of physical activity it needs to be moderate or vigorous in intensity.
Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving will help improve your mood. Physical activity and an exercise regimen are not the same; however, both are beneficial to your health.
An exercise regimen such as running, lifting weights or participating in a spinning class for 30 minutes or more will help reduce anxiety and depression if you do the activity three or more times a week. Light physical activity such as gardening, washing your car, walking around the block or engaging in other less intense activities will also offer similar benefits, but to a lesser degree.
Physical activity is not only good for the body but it is also one of the most effective ways to improve mental health. Regular physical activity has a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety and ADHD by relieving stress, improving memory, helping with sleep and boosting overall mood.
An exercise regimen, on the other hand, is defined as a physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive for the purpose of strengthening and conditioning the body.
Exercising is used more to improve health, fitness and physical rehabilitation. Strengthening exercises provides appropriate resistance to muscles to increase endurance and strength, whereas cardiac rehabilitation exercises are developed and individualized to improve the cardiovascular system for prevention and rehabilitation of cardiac disorders and diseases.
In addition to the benefits of physical activity, an exercise regimen will also help prevent and improve a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis.
Research on anxiety, depression and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of regular exercise helps reduce anxiety and improves mood.
While exercising for 30 minutes or more, the body releases chemicals called endorphins which interact with the receptors in the brain to reduce the perception of pain.
“Exercise stimulates the release of many brain chemicals thought to be low in supply when someone is battling depression,” explains David Muzina, MD, founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research.
Regular exercise has proven to reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. When the endorphins are triggered, they create a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.
For example, the feeling that follows a high-intensity run or workout session is often described as euphoric. That feeling, known as a runner’s high, can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
Research has shown that exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression. Doing something positive like exercising can help manage anxiety or depression because it is a healthy coping strategy.
Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how bad you feel, or hoping the anxiety or depression will just go away on its own can lead to worsening of symptoms.
A well-balanced exercise regimen will help improve general health, build endurance, and slow down many effects of aging. The benefits of an exercise regimen not only improves physical health, but also enhances emotional well-being.
Exercising regularly helps ease depression in a number of ways by releasing feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids), reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression, and increasing body temperature which may have calming effects.
There are many psychological and emotional benefits to having a regular exercise routine. For example, meeting exercise goals and challenges, even small ones, boosts overall self-confidence.
Exercise makes us feel better about our appearance and takes our mind off of worries we may be struggling with. It is a great distraction from negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.
Exercising can also be a great social interaction, giving you the chance to go out, meet and socialize with others. Simply exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around the gym or your neighborhood may help improve your mood.
There are a variety of physical causes of depression and anxiety. Our bodies go into an imbalance when we do not eat well or have enough healthy exercise in our daily routine.
We are not made to handle the unnatural substances found in processed foods. When we overload our bodies with chemicals, pesticides, sugar, and devitalized foods, our bodies become depleted of vital nutrients and go into stress; anxiety and depression can be the result of this physical depletion, resulting in stress.
We are designed to thrive on the food and water that God gave us, which is pure, clean, organic and unaltered in nature. If you take drugs for anxiety and depression and do not clean up your diet and get the proper exercise you need, you are just using a Band Aid for a gaping wound.
Depression is a common cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although effective pharmacological interventions are available, depression in the United States remains inadequately treated.
Compliance with antidepressant treatment is often poor; studies have shown that between 20% and 59% of patients in primary care stop taking antidepressants within three weeks of the drugs being prescribed.
Depressed patients tend to be physically sedentary patients. They have a reduced physical work capacity compared to the general population. This indicates that the reduced fitness level is caused by physical inactivity.
There is a strong argument for integrating physical fitness training into comprehensive treatment programs for depression and exercise has been shown to be successful in reducing depressive symptoms.
Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells; exercise aids in the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood, sleep and reduces stress and anxiety; problems in these areas frequently causing or contributing to cognitive impairment.
Anxiety is an unpleasant mood characterized by thoughts of worry. It is an adaptive response to perceived threats that can develop into a maladaptive anxiety disorder if it becomes severe and chronic.
Exercise training is a healthy behavior that could be an effective and practical tool for reducing anxiety among patients. It helps reduce anxiety among of people with cardiovascular, cancer, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, psychological, and pulmonary illnesses.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who are involved in a regular exercise regimen versus people who are not.
“Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Exercise is associated with an anti-depressive effect in patients with mild to moderate forms of non-bipolar depressive disorders. An increase in aerobic fitness does not seem to be essential for the anti-depressive effect, because similar results are obtained with nonaerobic forms of exercise.
More than half of patients with depression continued with regular exercise one year after termination of their training programs and patients who continued to exercise tend to have lower depression scores than sedentary ones.
Those who exercise appreciate it more and rank it to be the most important element in comprehensive treatment programs. Exercise is a promising approach in the treatment of non-bipolar depressive disorders of mild to moderate severity.
Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to add small amounts of physical activity throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther away from work to fit in a short walk. Or, if you live close to your job, bike to work.
One does not need to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits of physical activity or exercise. Research indicates that even modest amounts of physical activity can make a difference, with more intense exercise regimens reaping the greatest health benefits. No matter the age or fitness level, physical activity and exercise are a powerful tool to feeling better.
Authored by Lana Novakovic, CWC
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