If so, then I applaud you and encourage you to keep it up. You’re doing one of the most important things you can do for yourself in this fight against depression, not to mention the long list of other health benefits you’ll receive.
If you said no, please keep reading. I want to share with you some of my experience and what I’ve learned.
I was told several years ago that exercise would help with depression. I started exercising but never really made it a priority. I was too busy. I didn’t have a treadmill. I couldn’t afford the gym. It’s always either too hot or too cold to walk outside. Pilates in my living room got boring after a while. Let’s see, what other excuses did I have?
Well, you get the picture. I wasn’t exercising. I just didn’t know how powerful it is.
Maybe you’ve heard that too but doubted that exercise could be any match for what you’re going through. After all, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, depression is the presence of a chemical imbalance in the brain. So, how could walking possibly change my brain chemistry?
Doesn’t it make more sense to treat a chemical problem with chemicals?
It makes perfect sense to treat a chemical problem with chemicals. But not necessarily the ones in a bottle. As it turns out, our bodies are divinely programmed to balance their own chemicals through regular exercise!
In His amazing wisdom and mercy, God programmed within our own bodies a defense against depression. Scientists have now proven that regular, moderate exercise increases the activity of mood enhancing chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. These are the very chemicals targeted by popular antidepressant drugs. With exercise, the brain also increases production of an important chemical called BDNF, an important growth hormone. Pain perception, muscle tone, memory and other mechanisms are all regulated by this complicated mix of chemicals. Exercise keeps them balanced.
Unaddressed stress causes depression. Exercises addresses stress.
Have you ever read about the “fight or flight” response and the amazing cascade of chemical reactions that occur when a person is under sudden stress? Your body undergoes incredible changes to prepare you for an intense burst of physical activity, perceiving that you are about to engage in a physical battle or a difficult escape. Changes occur in your brain, lungs, muscles, blood, liver, and immune system, to name a few. Even your sleep changes if your body doesn’t detect that the danger is over. (You were designed to sleep lightly when your brain detects danger. How amazing is that?)
The trouble is, in our modern society, we seem to be under more stress than ever with fewer ways to “fight or flee.” When we exercise regularly, we send a signal to our brains that indicates that we’ve fought the fight and it’s OK to call off the chemical army. Conversely, when we don’t get enough exercise, the chemical reaction to stress never gets a chance to rest and turns into a recipe for depression and other health risks.
Many studies have now shown that regular exercise is more effective in the fight against depression than antidepressant drugs.
Studies also show that while the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs decreases over time, and people using them have a strong likelihood of reoccurrence, people who exercise regularly (and do not take antidepressants) do not experience nearly as high a rate of depression returning.
Thankfully, I now understand the importance and power of regular exercise and I’m doing much better. I see it as a priority, not something that gets worked in after everything else. It’s now the second thing I do in the morning, right after reading my Bible in the sun (more on sunshine later). I can truly say I feel less burdened. My mind has felt more clear and focused. I’m less sleepy. I entertain fewer negative thoughts. I dream more. I have more courage to do new and difficult things. I’m having more fun playing with my kids (I guess because I can breathe when I run). And, as an added bonus, I’m listening to a lot of great audio books on subjects I care about while I exercise, like marriage, homeschooling, spiritual gifts and personalities. I’m learning and growing while taking care of my physical needs.
Are you ready to get serious about fighting depression and putting yourself on a path toward emotional and physical health? What will you do this week to establish a routine that involves regular, moderate exercise? Share with us in the comments so we can cheer you on!
For more info on the studies noted above, see this article
*No, that’s not me in the photo, but isn’t that a pretty dog?