Too many people are confused about the relationship between exercise and mental health. On one side, skeptics say exercise isn’t a suitable replacement for prescribed medication or psychotherapy. Fitness gurus, though, advocate that disorders originate from a lack of exercise and poor diet. Thankfully, the research is in, and it turns out there’s some truth to both arguments. In this article, Walter Keating Jr. – Toronto-based fitness coach and triathlon trainer, discusses how you can use running to ease your depression.
For people with mild or moderate depression symptoms, exercise alone may be enough to kick the blues in the butt. People with severe depression, though, should only consider exercise as a complementary treatment. Regardless of how depression impacts you, never stop taking your medication without seeing your doctor or therapist.
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and hop onto the exercise bandwagon. Now what? Research shows that not all workouts are created equal. That means that while you may be frantically chugging away at the highest level, your stair-stepper can manage, you might not be doing anything to improve your mental state. So, to keep depression at bay, follow these simple guidelines.
Work smarter, not harder
Intensity is crucial. You may burn more calories opting for the highest resistance, but you won’t be doing your depression any favors.
In a study conducted on performance athletes and fitness enthusiasts, Weinstein, Maayan, and Weinsten found moderate-intensity workouts are far more effective in reducing depression and anxiety than low-intensity or high-intensity.
What is moderate-intensity? The World Health Organization says anything that noticeably raises your heart rate, but an easy way to measure intensity is by your breath. If your breathing is so labored you can’t talk during your workout, you’ve probably hit the vigorous-intensity zone. Some examples of moderate-intensity activities are gardening and yardwork, brisk walking (about one mile every 20 minutes), biking on level surfaces, and dancing.
Space out your workouts
The American College of Sports Medicine says you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, but the best way to get those minutes in is by spacing out your workouts. Many recommendations tell you to stick with five days of activity a week, but a study by Dunn and colleagues revealed it doesn’t matter if you exercise 3 days a week or 5. In short, you should see depression improvement no matter how often you workout as long as you stick to it every week and don’t cram the entire 150 minutes into a single day. So, keep it comfortable and find a schedule that works well for you.
Running, yoga, weights: what’s the difference?
In reality, we don’t know yet. Most research illustrating links between exercise and depression involves aerobic training (i.e., cardio), so there’s no clear evidence to suggest resistance training is better or worse than running or cycling.
Many studies, though, use flexibility training (i.e., yoga) compared to aerobic exercise, and there’s some pretty strong evidence to suggest yoga isn’t doing much to improve your depression. You may feel a slight boost in your mood, and there’s no harm in improving your flexibility, but it is probably best to stick with aerobic exercise for the time being.
To recap, the most important things to focus on to reduce your depression are keeping your workouts at a moderate pace, staying active throughout the week, and opting for the treadmill over the yoga mat.
It’s important to remember, though, that like antidepressant medications, exercise is not a quick-fix solution. The studies discussed in this article suggest a 12-week workout programme. Typically, though, participants saw improvements within the first few weeks. So, what have you got to lose?
About Walter Keating Jr.
Walter Keating Jr. is a Toronto-based fitness coach specializing in triathlon coaching and corrective exercise training. He graduated from the Fitness and Lifestyle Management Program at George Brown College and immediately started his professional career. Mr. Keating has worked as an endurance coach, personal trainer, spinning instructor, and corrective exercise trainer.