Depression is a lot more serious than just a case of the blues – and it might come as a surprise to learn just how widespread the problem is. According to a recent article in Scientific American, depression affects 1 in 10 Americans, and it is predicted that by 2030, this problem is predicted to be the second leading cause of death globally.
There are a lot of medications available to help treat depression, not to mention counseling services. However, there are also lifestyle changes that can improve this problem. There are many studies that have linked exercise to an improvement in depression symptoms, such as a Finnish study, which looked at nearly 3,500 patients and found that those who exercised 2-3 times a week experienced significantly less depression (as well as feelings of distrust, anger and stress) than those who exercised less than that or not at all.
But what kind of exercise is best? Below are the kinds of physical activity which studies have shown to help treat depression naturally.
Scientists note that yoga, a combination of physical poses (asanas) and breathing exercises which has its roots in ancient India, is a good choice for those who are seeking a natural way to improve depression symptoms. Yoga is able to relieve stress (a strong risk factor for depression) by reducing levels of cortisol, improving sleep, decreasing muscle tension, lowering the blood pressure and heart rate and boosting energy levels. The participants in this particular study showed significant improvement in anxiety, stress, depression and sleep quality. Other research has backed this up: in a review of 35 trials looking at yoga and depression, researchers found that 25 of these trials showed a link between yoga and a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression.
Walking is another great choice for improving depression. One study looked at post-menopausal women whose advanced age and physical inactivity put them at greater risk for depression. 121 patients aged 57-75 years were assigned to a 6-month moderate intensity walking intervention which took place three times a week for 40 minutes each session. It was found that this program significantly reduced depression signs and symptoms in participants. Harvard Health agrees that walking really is a good way to beat the blues. They cite a study from 2005 where patients with depression walked for 35 minutes a day, five times a week. The researchers found that this walking program help to significantly alleviate the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
Moderate Intensity Exercise
The great news is that for patients who are not necessarily into yoga and walking, there are a variety of other exercise programs they can follow to help their depression symptoms. In one study, women who averaged around 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (the choices here included golf, aerobics, swimming or line dancing) reported more energy and better socialization, felt better emotionally and reported not feeling as limited by their depression. The Harvard Health site agrees that moderate exercise regimens can help with depression issues. They cite a 1999 study where depressed patients were divided into three group: the first group took Zoloft, the second group participated in aerobics class three days a week and the third group did both. By the end of the study, all three groups had improved, with around 60-70 percent of them no longer qualifying as having a major depressive episode. And while those taking antidepressants appeared to be more responsive than those who just walked, a follow-up study 6 months later showed that those who exercised regularly were less likely to suffer a relapse.
Depression is a complicated issue and not all depression symptoms can be solved by exercise alone. However, if you are struggling with this condition, talk to your doctor about adding regular exercise to your plan of care, especially those mentioned above that have been shown to help with depression symptoms.
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