10 reasons why exercise wins over depression.
Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before. Exercise is the strongest anti-depressant known to man, blah, blah, blah. I get it though, when your mind has control of your body there's no way I'm walking to the fridge never mind 20km in nature. But, I did warn you I’d talk about exercise and I would talk about it a lot. Being someone who would do anything to skip a gym class at school I never ever could have predicted just how much I love exercise. Today, I can't live without it. At the ripe age of 33, I can tell you that if I were to go back in time I would run rings round my 18 year old self, without a shadow of a doubt. I love exercise for many reasons but I worship it for one in particular. It has been a necessary and consistent tool in anxiety/depression completely under control.
Exercise is my religion, below is my bible:
1. It’s all about the chemistry.
Quite simply exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain - neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids. Endorphins are natural painkillers and it’s believed that by exercising you alter your brain chemistry in much the same way that anti-depressants would, amazing. You've heard the expression 'runners high', the same thing happens after any moderately intense workout. I can testify to this, I finish up at the gym, have a hot shower, jump in my car, put on my music and for a good twenty minutes I have this feeling of joy coursing through my veins and to me it almost feels like a drug. Joy that I finished the workout and joy that I know I'll sleep that night, being an insomniac, there's no better feeling than that for me.
2. See ya Cortisol - BYE!
Your ‘fight or flight’ chemicals are a mix of adrenaline and cortisol. Together, they could save you when you are faced with imminent danger but when you have too much of it on a day-to-day basis, the extra Cortisol can manifest as debilitating anxiety. Exercise puts out the Cortisol fire, leading to a reduction in stress symptoms and gives you more of the good stuff…calmness.
3. Less snot.
Exercise can help fight off colds and increase your recovery time when you do have them. It boosts the number and increases the activity of important cells within the immune system. Too good. Being a hypochondriac, less time being sick means less time worrying and having full blown panic attacks in the doctors office, every. single. time. That drama is draining.
4. It's getting hot in here.
Exercise increases body temperature, which may have calming effects. I love this one as it is only something I have recently discovered. It’s also why a hot bath or shower an hour before bedtime is recommended, the cool down calms and releases melatonin. Love, love, love. Don't shower too near your bedtime, your body temperature needs time to adjust, like I mentioned in point 2, try jump in a shower straight after your workout adding to the high of it all!
5. I'm free baby!
Little exercise goals, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Believe it and mindfully acknowledge that exercising will do this for you. There's so much anxiety attached to getting into a gym or pounding the streets but trust me, no one cares as much as you think they do, I swear to god. In fact, I and many others have nothing but deep respect for ANYONE who takes to the streets or ventures into a gym, RESPECT. If you know that this will help your self-confidence, you'll feel it. Almost immediately. Have a good consistent number of days under your belt and you'll start to feel attached to your trainers and the treadmill. And, depression has no room to breed and fester when your confidence is up baby!
6. What bad day?
Trust me when I say this. If you are taking part in a moderately intense weights class or cardio class with some banging tunes, there's no room to obsess over small or even big problems. So many times I have done just a half an hour class at the end of a bad day and when it was finished I realised that for 30mins I had no worries. None, none at all. In fact, I have often tried to worry during an exercise class and been unsuccessful! When your body takes over, your mind shuts down to concentrate on what your doing. If it's a particularly hard class or a long ass run your brain might not think anything apart from 'girl! what are you DOING TO ME?!' and that, is good...
Disclaimer: I once did have a panic attack while in a yoga class, yeah, a yoga class - only me, only me!
7. Come at me life!
Exercise builds resilience. OK hear me out on this one - that glass of wine at the end of the day, while in the short term can ease the strain of a bad day, trying month or indeed a rubbish year might feel like the answer to all your problems. But, I'm just going to say this - it can make you worse. It can, it really can. Alcoholism and/or drug addiction is no longer the bum on the street drinking whisky from a paper bag. We're all living harder and more stressful lives now. Pulled in every direction and in demand 24/7, at the mercy of our families, children, work, jobs, there's no hiding. Exercise is coping with this insane life/world in a healthy way. Your mental muscles get as big as your physical ones and you'll have the strength to cope with whatever life throws at you.
8. Hello, nice to meet you.
I don't talk to anyone at the gym really. Not unless they speak to me because, I know that for some it's a sacred space. However, even just being in a group class makes me feel less alone. Walk with someone and have a gossip at the same time. Depression has no place when confronted with exercise and company.
I feel the same way about sleep as I do exercise. It’s so insanely important for your mental health. I know there are times that lack of sleep can’t be helped, such as when you are looking after a little tiny baby, or if you are working long hours, but it’s so important. I can’t stress prioritising exercise enough. Pair the two up (exercise and sleep) and you have a golden recipe to fight depressive feelings. Golden.
10. Stay young at heart.
Exercising can make you feel younger. I know for a fact I'd butcher my younger self in a fitness challenge. That weed smoking, long vodka drinking teenager would have no chance. So how does this help depression?
Depression can also trigger as we age, as the demands of life and its responsibilities mount. You'll also be losing more testosterone as you age. Low testoserone (both in ladles and gentlespoons) can increase age-related depression. But, you can boost the testo levels by exercising and at the same time fight the black dog.
There you have it. 10 reasons, 10 amazing reasons why exercise WINS over depression and leaves it with nowhere to go.
Remember! Always start small. It can be a catch 22 when you feel dark, exercise may well be the last thing you want to do. So make sure it’s manageable. A ten-minute walk with a friend, a playlist and the baby in the stroller, just round the block, that’s all it takes to start. 15 mins the next day, 20 the day after that. Make it a HABIT. Somehow, somewhere, no matter what is going on in your life, dig deep and make it a habit, that's an order.
At ease soldiers. I love you all x