Exercise and Depression
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst shares her experience with exercise, and warms that sometimes too much is too much.
I snicker when I read about exercise being the best way to treat depression naturally. Not because I don’t believe it, because I know better than many the rush a good workout is capable of providing and just how incredible you can feel after pushing your body at the gym or on the pavement. I laugh because exercise was, according to some of my doctors, partly to blame for my depression.
Let me be a little more clear and explain that I had been dieting and exercising for a couple of months and began to, well, go a little overboard. Whether you call it an eating disorder or exercise addiction, I was pushing myself harder than what’s considered healthy and one day passed out at the gym part-way through a very rigorous workout. It scared the bejesus out of me and forced me to take a bit of a break to get my strength back, though the break didn’t last long. It was only a couple of days before I was back into my unhealthy routine and hitting the gym 2 times a day and living on next to no calories. Naturally, this continued to catch up with me in the way of more fainting spells, weakness, and eventually anxiety, depression and all of the symptoms that go along with it. I consider that the beginning of my depression because all of those symptoms just continued to get worse and worse until my diagnosis. Some doctors felt that my behaviour brought on the changes in my body that led to my chemical imbalance while others thought that I was already suffering from some sort of psychological issue that made me take my dieting and working out to the extreme. Either way, it seemed to somehow be related.
For a long time I blamed the workouts, and when I stopped blaming them, I feared them, because as much weight as I had lost and as strong and in control as my workouts made me feel, I knew that nothing was worth the horror of being depressed again and suffering the way I did when the chemicals in my brain decided to wreak havoc on my state of being. See how depression becomes a part of you even after you’re “cured” or “happy again”?
For those who are wondering; yes, I am slowly getting back into working out after all of these years but doing so a little cautiously to avoid falling back into any bad habits. I am doing it partly for superficial reasons (those reasons being big, round, and jiggly!) but also because I’ve read the evidence and know that to keep depression at bay and to keep my mind and body functioning at its best. There is nothing better than being active and I’ll take that over medication any day if possible. Exercise really is the best natural remedy for depression it seems.
Didn’t know about the benefits of exercise for depression? Here are just a few to help motivate you:
- Exercise boosts the neurotransmitters (the feel-good chemicals in the brain) which improves moods as well as your sleep and wake cycles, and even increases your libido!
- Exercise reduces stress and anxiety levels and helps you to relax
- Getting your heart pumping lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
- It’s a great way to keep your mind occupied so that you focus less on negative feelings or problems
- Using exercise to treat depression helps a person feel in control of their recovery, which is something I know firsthand can have a big impact on your recovery and state of mind, having felt helpless and out of control for so long myself.
Working out may be the last thing on your mind when you’re suffering from depression, but it can be your saviour if you even just commit to something as simple as a brisk walk for 30 minutes a few times per week. Give it a try and see for yourself.
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