Aside from keeping your body healthy, exercise nurtures your mind in many ways. Find out how regular exercise can battle depression and contribute to a happier life.
Depression can feel like a dead weight. The things you used to enjoy become unfulfilling, and you might not have the motivation to do anything.
You also don’t have the energy that you need to go about your daily life. Instead, you feel completely drained, to the point that even the simplest of tasks become unbearable.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Depression is manageable, and you can do a lot to bring your body and mind to a significantly more joyful state.
Among others, exercise has proven to be one of the most effective in doing so. Gervase, for one, discovered this as she was working to overcome her depression.
Gervase experienced severe depression not once but twice in her life. For both of those times, the causes were life-changing events that she couldn’t cope with effectively.
Gervase first felt the full power of depression after the death of her brother - she took it particularly hard. It was the first time she realised that nothing would last forever.
Luckily, Gervase managed to overcome her depression and came away stronger. She took her brother’s death as a lesson about the things that matter in life.
Later on, she met a man with whom she had a baby girl.
The birth of a child is a joyful event for many. But for her, becoming a mother meant that she had to redefine who she was. And this can confuse anyone and even cause severe depression.
Depression is insidious because it doesn’t have to have any relation to what happens. It’s all about the way we perceive those events. And unfortunately, her perception of having a child for the first time was different. Depression reared its ugly head, once again.
Luckily, Gervase’s daughter showed her the path out of it. But Gervase still had to figure out how to follow the path. And exercise was the key.
Gervase started doing yoga to “get those endorphins pumping,” as she put it. In time, exercise helped her to overcome her struggles and achieve a happier and more empowering state.
So now, let’s take a look at how exercise supports a happy and healthy mind.
How Exercise Influences the Mind
The brain is a powerful and complex machine. Many processes influence how you feel.
The good news is you get to influence how those processes occur through your lifestyle. And one of the most effective is through exercise.
You see, stress can actually slow down the production of your brain cells. Worse yet, it affects the production of the neurotransmitters that regulate how those cells communicate. When these neurotransmitters are out of order, disorders like anxiety and depression can occur.
Scientists have long been studying the role of exercise with regard to this. As you might have heard, research has shown that exercise can benefit you in a number of ways.
One, it supports neurogenesis or the process of creating new neurons. When you sweat, a protein called FNDC5 gets released that stimulates another protein called BNDF. This process triggers the creation of new brain cells and synapses, while preserving the existing ones.
For depression sufferers, this is excellent news. It means that you can counter with exercise the mechanisms that cause you to lose neurons and feel depressed.
Moreover, exercise also prompts your body to release the following chemicals that regulate mood:
Serotonin – Inhibits pain and regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Induces feelings of security and happiness.
Dopamine – Plays a key role in the brain’s reward system. Contributes to the way a person perceives reality and motivation levels.
Norepinephrine – Constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. Linked to multiple types of depression and anxiety.
Endorphin – Released in response to pain and stress. Helps to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Now, every person requires a unique balance of the above chemicals. But in general, exercise can help you achieve a balanced state.
However, it’s vital that you exercise regularly. That’s how you can have a stable flow of positive emotions, rather than going through mood swings.
It’s just that many people believe that exercising regularly is hard. And they might not persist long enough to notice significant benefits.
You’ll be glad to hear that this doesn’t have to be the case with you.
Because you don’t need strenuous exercises to combat depression. Rather, a few simple workouts can make a world of difference, so long as you stay consistent.
Better still, some of the most effective exercises don’t require a lot of time or a gym subscription. You can perform them whenever and wherever.
How about if we have a look at five simple exercises that you can start today?
Exercise # 1. Squats
This simple yet effective exercise can contribute to your brain’s ability to produce all of those beneficial chemicals. Plus, it strengthens your core and lower body.
Squats also engage some of your body’s largest muscles. This means that this exercise is great for burning calories and achieving fitness.
To do squats the right way, follow these steps:
Stand straight with your feet a bit wider than your shoulders and your arms positioned at your sides.
Brace your core, push your hips back, and then bend your knees as if you’re sitting on a chair. Make sure to keep your chest and chin up.
Lower you behind until your thighs are parallel to the ground. At the same time, bring your arms in front of you. Pause for a second before going back to the starting position by extending your legs.
You can do as many reps as your body will allow. For maximum effect, aim for three sets of 20 reps.
Exercise # 2. Standing Dumbbell Press (Overhead)
This exercise doesn’t require a lot of time but involves many parts of your body. Specifically, your arms, shoulders, core, and upper back.
If you’re a beginner, you should start with light dumbbells of up to 4.5kg in total. Here’s what you have to do:
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bring the weights overhead so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
Bracing your core, push your arms up until they extend fully above your head. Make sure that your head and neck are stationary.
Pause briefly before bending your elbows slowly. Do this to lower the weight until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
For the best results, try completing three sets of 12 reps.
Exercise # 3. Side Planks
Your core is the foundation of your body’s strength. Side planks are among the best exercises for strengthening your core.
Moreover, this exercise also encourages the connection of your mind and body. In addition to the brain chemistry benefits, side planks can also be meditative.
Here’s how to do the exercise correctly:
Lie on your right-hand side. Then, place your left leg and foot on the top of your right leg. Place your right forearm beneath you, then bring your upper body up. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder.
Lift your hips and knees while contracting your core so that your spine is stiff. Make sure that your body forms a straight line.
Slowly return to the starting position while keeping your body straight.
You should shoot for three sets of 10-15 reps per side (repeat the steps above, but on your left side).
Exercise # 4. Sit-Ups
Don’t underestimate the power of this simple exercise. It’s one of the best ways to strengthen your abdominal muscles and break a sweat.
Despite what you may know about this exercise, here’s how to do it correctly:
Lie on your back and bend your knees. Your feet should be flat and your hands behind your head.
Keep your feet on the ground and engage your core to roll up. Start the roll from your head but don’t strain your neck as you move upward.
Keep going until your chest touches your legs and then move back to the starting position.
For maximum effect, beginners should complete three sets of 15 reps.
Exercise # 5. Walking
There’s no simpler way to be more physically active than by walking more. Walking can also be very enjoyable, and also very relaxing if you’re to practice mindfulness.
There are many benefits to walking that might be surprising to many. These range from lowering the risk of a range of diseases to lifting your mood.
What’s best is that just 10-15 minutes per day is enough to be beneficial at the beginning. Ultimately, though, you should aim to walk for 30-60 minutes a day. Get yourself a pair of comfortable shoes and start walking your way to a happier state of mind.
We all know that there are many benefits to exercising regularly.
Doing so keeps your body fit and healthy. And now, you also know how big of an impact exercise can have on your mental well-being.
Furthermore, there are many exercises that can cheer you up without taking up a lot of your time or energy. And it doesn’t have to cost anything to move your body and nourish your mind.
And if you’d like to live a happier life, call us at Success and You for a free one-on-one coaching session. You’ll get an inspiring 30-minute phone call to help you bridge the gap from where you are now in your life to where you’d like to be.
About the Author
As a business mentor, Peter Conna inspires business owners to apply rapid growth strategies in their businesses. Perhaps more importantly he helps bring more balance to their personal lives, especially their health and relationships.