According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7% of adults in the US experience major depressive disorder (Reference: National Institute of Mental Health). That means about one in every 15 people you know might have depression. Perhaps you have even experienced it.
Those with depression that do seek help, typically go to their primary care provider. Patients are usually treated with medication, and are not often offered other forms of therapy. Since the early 1900s, exercise has been known to improve symptoms of depression and your general well-being. For mild to moderate depression, exercise can be just as effective as medication (Reference: The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed Lynette L. Craft, Ph.D. and Frank M. Perna, Ed.D., Ph.D.).
Research has shown that it doesn’t matter if the exercise is cardio- or resistance-based. The most important thing is to find something you enjoy doing, so you are more likely to keep it up.
Most people who regularly hit the gym, or go running, know the exercise “high” from endorphins. This is one thing that keeps them coming back for more-–it makes them feel good.
Unfortunately, those with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, often find it difficult and draining to go out to exercise. Exercise for mental health benefits does not have to be tough and grueling. It does not have to leave you sore for days, and it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.
Here are 7 simple ways to exercise to improve your mental health, without feeling like you have to overexert yourself:
1. Go for a walk
This could be anything from exploring your local streets to hiking up mountains. Whatever you prefer is fine.
2. Take up gardening
Gardening can be good physical exercise that improves your cardio fitness and strength. If you plant your own fruit and vegetables, you’ll get the added benefits of fresh, healthy food.
3. Play a team sport
Team sports are not just for kids. Anyone can join their local basketball team, tennis club, or get some friends together for a game of football in the park.
4. Hire a personal trainer
Outsourcing your fitness is a great way to not have to think about it too much. Of course, you still have to do the work, but an understanding trainer will coach you so you improve at your own pace, and will understand if your energy levels vary according to the state of your mental health.
5. Walk your dog
If you have a dog, obviously you have to walk it to keep it happy and healthy. The same goes for you. If you’re already walking your dog regularly, you could walk him more often, or you could try some different things like advanced dog training or agility school. This will get both of you out a bit more.
6. Exercise with a friend
If you have trouble sticking to regular exercise by yourself, arrange to meet up with a friend for exercise. If you have to meet your friend at a certain time, you are more likely to commit to the session.
7. Try new things
If you don’t enjoy a particular form of exercise, try something else. Keep searching until you find forms of physical activity that you enjoy.
If your mental health is concerning you, see Mental Health America, Beyond Blue (Australia), or Mind (UK) for more information.
Featured photo credit: On The Shore / FaceMePLS via flickr.com