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When people feel down, stressed out, or anxious, they immediately turn to something to make themselves feel, at least temporarily, better. Unfortunately, from a physical health standpoint, many times they turn to food.
To compound the problem, feeling depressed drains an individual of their energy, leaving them completely uninspired to get any physical activity. However, physical activity could be JUST the thing they need in order to lift, not only their mood, but also the darkness that seems to be hovering over their life.
“Energy loss is one of the key characteristics of depression. Some people feel that it’s the key characteristic of depression,” says Robert E. Thayer, PhD, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, an expert in managing mood, and the author of Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise.
He points to exercise as one of the best ways for depressed people to lift their mood. “Exercise generates energy,” Thayer says.
According to Dr. Thayer, when depressed people begin to exercise, the following physiological changes take place: “There’s a whole series of things that happen when we begin to exercise. As we get up and begin to move and exercise, there’s a general bodily arousal state that occurs. It includes many different systems of the body — everything from metabolism to cardiovascular activation, various kinds of endocrine changes in the brain, various kinds of hormonal changes and shifts.”
What happens psychologically when people start to exercise? “It depends on the degree and level of exercise. With moderate exercise, [in our research] we’ve been working with short, brisk walks [of] five or 10 minutes. The primary mood effect in that situation is increased energy. Secondarily, sometimes — but not always — there’s a tension reduction.”
“With more intense exercise — for example, an hour of heavy aerobic exercise — there is a reduction in energy and a reduction in tension. But oftentimes, after recovery [from the workout], there’s an energy resurgence that occurs.”
The depressed person is, of course, delighted to see that the benefits come about fairly quickly. When you take a short walk, you’ll notice that you begin to feel differently almost immediately. It doesn’t have to be a long walk and it doesn’t have to be at an intense, roadrunner pace!
Even those of us who have not faced depression, can’t help but recognize the “feel good” side effects of walking. If you’re in a good mood, it’ll only heighten the way you feel. If you’re feeling down, the activity will lift your spirits – again, almost immediately.
The biggest hurdle an individual with depression faces when it comes to exercise is this: Taking that first, all important, step. When you’re depressed, you have no energy. That’s not all in your head – depression, literally, zaps you of your energy and your will to do just about anything.
If you suggest exercising to someone who is depressed, they’re liable to think you’re either cruel or joking – or both!
In a situation such as this, it is all about taking that first step. MAKE yourself get up, put down the remote control (or climb out of the bed or off of the couch – wherever it is that your depression has dumped you), and move. Make a goal to walk down the street and back – or once around the yard. Chances are, the instant you begin to feel your mood lift, you’ll want more where that came from and you’ll walk even longer.