Beating the blues

Did you know that there is now a great deal of research showing that exercise really does help people suffering from depression? Further, regular exercise has been shown to help prevent the onset of depression. It seems that you can, in fact, quite literally walk away from depression; so if you suffer from depression (or you know someone who does), read on.

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise for helping depression, but research has found that other exercise also helps. And it seems that exercise works at least as well as drug therapy and psychological approaches to treatment. Research tells us that there are good reasons to try exercise.

Exercise helps depression quickly

One study showed that the improvement in mood begins just ten minutes after you start exercising. Mood was found to continue to get better for up to twenty minutes. Another found that depression had improved after people had walked on a treadmill for thirty minutes a day for only ten days. (Antidepressants usually take at least two to three weeks to begin improving mood.) And more lasting change in mood was found to have occurred after people had exercised for just two to three weeks.

The benefits of exercise last

Researchers have found that the improvement in mood lasts for months. In one case people who walked daily for seven weeks found that the decrease in their depressive mood and the improvement in vigour had continued five months later. Another study which compared exercise alone, medication alone, and exercise plus medication found lasting improvements after six months in people who had exercised without medication. When these people continued to exercise the on-going improvement was even greater. This study concluded that medication may produce quicker relief but exercise yields more long term benefit. Some studies suggest that medication may not even be faster. Certainly, exercise has fewer side-effects than medication.

Almost anyone can benefit

Exercise works with children, young adults, and older people. The research shows that people who begin to exercise find many benefits: their mood is improved; they are less negative, less angry, less tired, and less anxious. People with depression who take regular exercise may find that the world begins to look a whole lot better.

So the really good news is...if you are depressed, exercise can help you feel better quickly and the results last.

How to take action

Our physiotherapists at Ability are experts who can help you plan an exercise program that will suit your overall health, and which may help your depression. And best of all, our therapist can help you with the motivation you need not only to get started, but to keep going with the exercise plan. If you have been depressed for some time you may not be very fit and should be careful not to overdo it. Your exercise program should be monitored and assessed regularly. Your therapistS will help keep you on track, and help you beat the blues.
Even a small amount of exercise helps. Talk to our therapist; talk about your problem, your wish to exercise, and especially tell the therapist about any medications you may be taking. Your therapist will help you decide whether you need to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You probably shouldn't start a new exercise program without first making sure it is OK medically. Although exercise has few side-effects, there are some precautions you may need to take. For example, when taking certain medications, you are sensitive to sunlight. So, if this is the case for you, you should avoid walking in the sun. You, your doctor, and your therapist will also need to talk about how and when to reduce your medication. You should never stop taking antidepressents without first talking to your doctor.
Once you have been cleared medically, decide with our therapist which exercise you want to do. You may even want to pick several forms of exercise so that you can add variety to your routine. On Monday you could walk, on Wednesday ride a bike, on Friday go for a swim, and so on. Variety will make your exercise more enjoyable.
Also, having someone else exercise with you can make it more fun, provide support, and help you stick to the exercise plan. (If you are close to someone with depression, one of the most helpful things you could do is to provide support for an exercise plan.)
You also need to plan how to pace yourself. Our therapist will help you work out how much exercise to do, an how often. It is a good idea to schedule a time to exercise. You may want to exercise daily. Or you may want to exercise less often. The important thing here is to have a scheduleā€¦and to stick to it.
For it to be effective, as a minimum you need to exercise three days each week for thirty minutes. But don't start off at this level. Our physio will help you start slowly and increase gradually as your fitness and mood improve. At first you might exercise for just ten minutes...then move up to fifteen...then twenty...and keep increasing until you reach your goal.
You will feel the benefit of regular exercise very soon and be glad that you chose to walk (or run, or ride, or swim) away from depression.