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Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms
Depression symptoms often improve with exercise. Here are some realistic tips to help you get started and stay motivated.By Mayo Clinic staff
When you have anxiety or depression, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference.
Exercise helps 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 exercise can also help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
The links between anxiety, depression and exercise aren't entirely clear — but working out can definitely help you relax and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep anxiety and depression from coming back once you're feeling better.
How does exercise help depression and anxiety?
Exercise probably helps ease depression in a number of ways, which may include:
- Releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters and endorphins)
- Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
- Increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects
Exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits too. It can help you:
- Gain confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.
- Take your mind off worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.
- Get more social interaction. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.
- Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away on its own can lead to worsening symptoms.
What kind of exercise is best?
The word "exercise" may make you think of running laps around the gym. But exercise includes a wide range of activities that boost your activity level to help you feel better. Certainly running, lifting weights, playing basketball and other fitness activities that get your heart pumping can help. But so can gardening, washing your car, or strolling around the block and other less intense activities. Anything that gets you off the couch and moving is exercise that can help improve your mood.
You don't have to do all your exercise at once either. Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to fit activity into your routine. Add small amounts of physical activity throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther away from your work to fit in a short walk. Or, if you live close to your job, consider biking to work.Next page
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- Mead GE, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009; CD004366.
- Carek PJ, et al. Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. International Journal Psychiatry in Medicine. 2011;41:15.
- Gill A, et al. Does exercise alleviate symptoms of depression? The Journal of Family Practice. 2010;59:530.
- Lee RA. Anxiety. In: Rakel D. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2007. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-2/0/1494/0.html. Accessed Aug. 19, 2011.
- Strohle A. Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission. 2009;116:777.
- Lowry CA, et al. That warm fuzzy feeling: Brain serotonergic neurons and the regulation of emotion. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2009;23:392.
- Mental Illness and Exercise. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Hearts_and_Minds/Exercise/Mental_Illness_and_Exercise.htm. Accessed Aug. 19, 2011.
- Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 25, 2011.