How does exercise help relieve depression?

How does exercise help relieve depression?

Just focusing your mind and body on a rhythmic activity can help relieve anxiety. Exercise is a great stress-buster, too, not only because it relieves muscle tension but also because it gets your heart rate up. The combination makes you more relaxed and alert and, therefore, better able to deal with your problems. Plus, it does you a lot more good to take out your frustrations on the running machine than on your spouse or coworkers.

If depression has disrupted your sleep or appetite, burning a few extra calories helps get your body back in sync and boosts your energy level if you're dragging. It may take your mind off your problems, too. Of course, getting stronger and staying in shape makes you feel better about yourself by enhancing your sense of competence and control over your life. And knowing that you can indulge in that ice cream sundae occasionally without worrying about how it will look on your hips is nice, too.

Some current research suggests exercise can actually change your brain chemistry. One recent study found that a good workout can boost your level of serotonin, a brain chemical that is linked to mood. Intense exercise can also stimulate the production of endorphins, natural painkillers that can sometimes make you feel euphoric. A 2005 Yale University study found that exercise increases neurogenesis--the growth of neuronal brain cells--and stymies the effects of aging and depression. While researchers aren't sure if that's enough to lift you out of depression, the evidence is encouraging.

There are social benefits to exercising that can help improve your mood as well. Joining a club or meeting friends to walk or work out with can help lift the sense of isolation you can develop when you're depressed.

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