Written by Jenni Sharrock

     We’ve all been there, dreading going for a run or to the gym because it’s raining outside or a bit cold, or simply because the sofa is more comfortable. We finally manage to get out, and it’s not so bad; half way through the workout we already feel proud of ourselves – we’ve made it. Doing something beneficial and long-lasting is better than what we would have been doing, such as staying in bed. Afterwards, we will get to sit on the sofa or go back to bed, but at least we’ve earned it. Exercise can be beneficial in so many ways; there are the obvious health benefits, the feel-good factor we get afterwards, and there are many other hidden-benefits – relaxing effects, fresh air, clearing the mind, and if you exercise with friends, it gives you a chance to talk to them. Exercising regularly has been proven to help with issues such as depression, controlling stress, and even help with drug rehabilitation alongside medical support.

Depression is an extremely serious issue, and so is anxiety and stress, no matter what level it is on. It can be a mid-range or stress and anxiety that can lead to health problems, and depression has the obvious downsides, and there is no simple remedy. Studies have been carried out to find out what the benefits of exercise are in terms of depression and anxiety.

Exercise changes our hormone levels, releases endorphins and makes us feel happier for a period of time. A recent review by the Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Group has found that exercise has a “moderate effect” on those suffering from depression. They aren’t able to suggest which types of exercise are best to try out, however they do advise that it is most effective when carried out with friends, or groups of people – and at the lowest level it can help just to have the opportunity to talk to those people and be distracted.

Here are the main benefits of exercise as laid out by the Mental Health Foundation:

  • focus in life and motivation
  • reduction in stress and anxiety
  • less chance of feeling lathargic
  • less anger or frustration
  • improved sleep
  • better social life
  • healthier appetite

Daily life can be so busy that it’s difficult to have any time for yourself, which can lead to a build up of anxiety. Going for a run, or to the gym on your own can give you that time to think, and get some fresh air. On the other hand, if you find your life so busy that you cannot meet new people easily, which can lead to loneliness, joining a sports group, gym or exercise class can be an easy way to make new friends. Setting yourself a physical goal can give you a real purpose too – running a 10k, even a marathon, losing a certain amount of weight. They can all help to take your mind off the stresses and worries of daily life.

Harvard Medical School advises that a regular exercise routine can help people with “mild to moderate depression”, and studies going back to 1981 advise that “It also may play a supporting role in treating severe depression.” Their studies have also found that the effects of a regular workout routine have longer lasting effects than those felt by antidepressant drugs, prescribed by medical professionals often as a last resort. However, it is always best to remember that people who already suffer from depression will already find it very difficult to get out and exercise, even if classes are already signed up to and you are committed to exercise plans with friends. It is not a simple thing to overcome, and medical professionals will always advise you of the best course of action.

There are some forms of exercise that aren’t really exercise, well, it’s not exhilarating or painfully tiring. Meeting up with a friend for a walk, distracting yourself, talking to someone, getting some fresh air and simply not being alone is a good antidote to the patches of feeling lower than usual. Doing some gardening or cleaning can count as exercise, too. The feeling of accomplishing something, getting some chores done that will need to be done at some point can be useful. Perhaps putting some headphones on while doing it, listening to a comedy album or perhaps some music that will distract you, it can certainly help. Distractions that raise your heart rate, from walking a pet, to doing to a gym class, these can all help you get through a period of increased anxiety or depression. However, we must remember that a doctor can always assess the situation carefully and can suggest the best methods to combat your situation.