It has been documented that nearly one in four people will experience depression at some time throughout their lives. Currently, clinical depression is a disease that is affecting millions of people throughout this country and the world. According to biologists, depression is caused by deficits of certain chemicals in the brain including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. Depression can also stem from a number of factors including early childhood experiences, parent/ child separation, the death of a loved one, and divorce. There is also a genetic component to depression, putting first degree biological relatives at nearly three times the risk of experiencing depression. People who are depressed become overwhelmed with the feeling of sadness and tend to view their lives in a negative way. For this reason, treating depression is extremely important. There are medications which treat depression, but it has been said that the most cost effective treatment is good old fashioned exercise. Research has shown that regular physical activity has decreased feelings of anger and sadness as well as reduced the amount of tension and fatigue in the bodies of depressed individuals. Throughout this article I will be discussing the following ideas:

1. Exercise and its effect on mood.
2. Continuity leads to results.
3. Using distraction as a tool.
4. Finding a new home in group exercise.
5. Overtraining leading to depression.
6. Rewarding your success.

Exercise and its effect on mood. Research has shown that both depressed and non- depressed people alike report feeling better after exercise, both physically and emotionally. Feeling better has become one of the biggest reasons that people continue to exercise regularly. For example, many runners experience what is called a “runners high”. This happens because the body releases “feel good” hormones which enhance the physical and mental state of the runner. I mean, have you ever met a marathon runner? It seems like once they run one, they just can’t stop. It makes them feel good. The same holds true for traditional exercise as well. Regular resistance and cardiovascular training has been associated with lower feelings of depression, anger and confusion. It has also been shown that regular exercise increases motivation. The main reason for this is the physical and mental results that are derived including decreased body fat, increased muscle mass, increased self esteem, increased work productivity, and better controlled stress management.

Continuity leads to results. The real secret to exercise therapy treating depression is continuity. In order for it to work it has to be regular. For some depressed individuals, the beginning of an exercise program is often the most difficult to get through. It is a serious lifestyle change that demands hard work. However, if one succeeds through the first two or three weeks, the hardest part is over. Once exercise becomes habit, it then becomes much easier to adhere to because of the physical and emotional benefits. It may feel difficult at first, but just stick with it and the payoff is far worth the hard work that you put into it.

Using distraction as a tool. Obsession with negative thoughts is a common behavior for some depressed individuals. Exercise often tends to serve as a distraction to those negative thoughts. It’s hard to focus on those negative voices when you need to pay such close attention to your body. Also, many depressed people have reported that exercise helps them to “vent their frustrations” in a way that helps them feel better. This could be another reason for the enhanced sense of mood that comes from regular exercise.

Finding a new home in group exercise. One of the best ways for depressed individuals to embark on a new and healthy lifestyle is to join group classes. Group exercise has a wonderful motivational component to it because everyone is there for the same purpose: to get in shape. For this reason, most people that are already involved in group exercise, as well as the instructors, are extremely friendly and more than willing to help orient new members in the class. There is also a great sense of fun in group exercise classes that the depressed individual might otherwise not experience. Classes such as Body Pump, Spinning, Step, Cardio Funk, and Cardio Kickboxing have all been reported as fun, energetic classes that truly give its members a workout to remember. There are many people who show up religiously week after week to the same classes because they love it so much. It truly does become a “second home” with a “family” to many people. If one is start exercising by taking group classes, I highly recommend taking both a resistance training class as well as an aerobic class. It is also wise to check the aerobics schedule to differentiate between beginner and intermediate classes.

Overtraining leading to depression. While I highly recommend exercise as a form of therapy for depressed individuals, one needs to be careful not to push himself too hard. Pro longed high intensity training is probably not the best approach for these people. If overtraining occurs, a depressed person can actually experience a setback in mood. When this happens, chronic sadness and burnout can occur. For this reason, depressed individuals need to carefully monitor their intensities, increasing them very gradually. Light to moderate intensities are recommended for depressed individuals first embarking on an exercise program.

Rewarding your success. Rewarding oneself for hard work accomplished is very important for both depressed and non depressed people alike. There needs to be a payoff, otherwise burnout can occur and inspiration can vanish. This is one reason that I advise my clients to take one “cheat day” a week with their eating. The same holds true for exercise in general. Especially for depressed individuals, it is advisable to follow successful workouts with enjoyable activities such as going to dinner with friends, going to a movie, or just taking a nice hot bath with a good book in hand. Just be sure to stay away from the burgers and fries if it’s not your cheat day!

Please note that while exercise has been shown to have positive effects on mood, only your doctor and/or mental health professional can diagnose depression. Please consult with such a professional if you think you might suffer from depression and let them determine an appropriate course of treatment.

Depression is a serious illness, but it does not need to be life controlling. I have trained depressed individuals in the past and had the great reward of watching them transform their lives for the better. Just look at the benefits: increased energy, improved work ethic, overall improvement in health, increased motivation, increased self esteem, and a greatly enhanced improvement in mood. I mean, the facts speak for themselves. Exercise truly is an age old method that has worked time and again to treat many illnesses. Just remember it’s your body and your mind. Take control of it!

MARCH TRAINING SPECIAL: For the entire month of March, I will be offering a special on my 10 session training package. Normally a 10 visit punch card at Quads Gym costs $80. However, for the month of March, I will be waiving the fee of the punch card for new clients. Basically, this means that you will still have to pay for the training, but the cost of using the gym for those 10 sessions will be taken care of for you. If you are interested, please call (773)680-7275 or send an email to michaelelderfitness@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading. Be healthy!