Pharmalogical and psychological treatments are common management strategies for many mental health conditions. Just recently, Australian researchers from The Black Dog Institute have found that 12 per cent of depression cases could be prevented with small amounts of weekly exercise. Another study found 16 weeks of regular exercise to be equally effective as anti-depressant medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depression!

According to the Australian Health Survey, 20 per cent of Australian adults do not undertake any regular physical activity, and more than a third spend less than 1.5 hours per week being physically active.

In today’s blog, we are going to highlight how and why exercise is also a key for tackling depression.

How does exercise help?

It is thought exercise increases our levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin that is mainly responsible for regulating our mood, sleep patterns and libido. Issues with serotonin pathways in the brain have been linked to depression. Exercise also helps the body release endorphins. These are the body’s natural happy hormones that lift our mood and give us that natural high after completing a high intensity workout.

Exercise may help alleviate the symptoms of depression by:

  • Increasing your energy levels, especially in the morning
  • Improving your sleep quality
  • Distracting you from worries
  • Provide a healthy social support network
  • Reduce loneliness
  • Improve your self esteem

What sort of exercise?

To enjoy the mental health benefits, research shows a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is required, preferably on most days of the week. If you are just starting out with exercise, 10-15 minutes is a good starting point, before gradually building up to the 30 minute minimum.

Read more on the benefits and importance of physical activity to everyday life in our coverage of this year’s World Physical Therapy Day, held on the 8th September.

The keys are to set achievable goals. This is best done in consultation with a health professional. Trying to do too much too soon can get overwhelming and may lead to an injury setback.

What is “moderate” and “vigorous” intensity exercise?

Moderate intensity exercise is the intensity where a slight increase in breathing and heart rate is noticed. This however can be different for different people depending on your fitness level. Examples of moderate intensity include:

  • Brisk walking / walking the dog / bushwalking
  • Swimming
  • Riding a bike
  • Gardening
  • Weights at the gym

Tackling depression with exercise - bike riding

Jumping on the bike is a great way to get some moderate exercise in!

The next step up from this is classed as vigorous exercise. Vigorous exercise is recommended if your fitness level can tolerate the increased demands on your body. Again, it should be performed for at least 30 minutes, at least 3 times a week. Vigorous exercise should be in addition to your moderate intensity exercise. Examples include:

  • Jogging
  • Squash
  • Cross-trainer / Elliptical machine
  • Rowing machine
  • Gym / group exercise classes

Tackling depression with exercise - aerobics

For some vigorous exercise, try a group class at your local gym.

At Revive Physiotherapy and Pilates, we can recommend a guided exercise program for all levels of ability. Whether exercise has been a big or little part of your life previously, can determine what forms of exercise you will be best suited to. It is also advisable to undergo a physical assessment from your physio, especially if you have had previous injury issues. The last thing you need is to cause further issues if you commence with incorrect form or excessive intensity. We can also recommend strategies to keep you motivated and on track with your goals to be a happier, more vibrant you.