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How Exercise Can Help with Depression and Anxiety

February 28, 2020

Besides putting you in a better mood afterward, exercise can help alleviate the effects of depression and anxiety. Working out often is celebrated for its ability to physically transform the body, but it also has an abundance of benefits for the mind. While those experiencing the symptoms of anxiety or depression always should seek advice from a mental health professional, people everywhere might just have one more reason to hit the gym or put on their walking shoes. 

A Positive Relationship

First off, while anxiety and depression often can leave people feeling isolated, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S. and affects approximately 40 million adults every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). That’s more than 18 percent of the country’s population. The ADAA estimated in 2014 that more than 15.5 million adults in the U.S. — or 6.7 percent of the population — experienced at least one major depressive episode in the previous year. 

Research has shown that, in many cases, exercise can be a vital part of treatment. Why? When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. By interacting with pain receptors in the brain, endorphins can create a reduced perception of pain. Also known as “runner’s high,” this feeling generally allows for a more positive outlook on life and helps reduce the symptoms of mental illness. 

More than Your Mood

Exercise doesn’t just enhance your mood, but also can boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. Through staying physically active, you not only keep your body healthier, but you also tend to feel better about the way you look. Plus, by better coping with depression and anxiety, people may find themselves feeling more socially active. This creates a positive cycle. The more social you are, the more comfortable you may feel opening up to others.

The correlation between stress and mental illness is strong. High-stressed people are simply at an increased risk for feeling anxious or sad. Fortunately, exercising is an excellent method for tackling stress. When you’re working your body, you’re forced to focus on the present moment, instead of worrying about the past or future. 

Exercise Comes in Many Forms

When people hear the word “exercise,” they often assume they have to go out for a run. There are many forms of exercise though, including workouts that don’t require you to head to the gym or even leave your home.

Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Walk outside for 30 minutes or more. During bad weather, walk around the local mall or indoor track instead.

  • Practice yoga at a local studio or through an at-home video.

  • After receiving guidance from a physical trainer, practice hitting a punching bag, using a battle rope or slamming some medicine balls. These exercises are especially good for those who have a lot of tension. 

  • Take a dance fitness class or just cha-cha along to a favorite dance video in your living room. 

  • Try picking up a new sport — such as tennis, beach volleyball, kickball or soccer — with friends or family.

  • Visit the nearest driving range and spend an hour hitting golf balls. If you do play a full round, consider walking the course instead of using a golf cart.

Learn More About the Orlando Health National Training Center

The Orlando Health National Training Center, on the campus of Orlando Health South Lake Hospital, provides comprehensive wellness programs, events and training services to support our community and athletes in their achievement for health and performance excellence.

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