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Exercising and Depression - How One Can Help the Other

Exercise and Depression


Last week we talked about how eating better can help with anxiety and depression. Whilst a healthier diet alone may not alleviate your symptoms, paired with exercise, it is has been shown that it can help 30% of potential sufferers avoid depression. 


The NHS currently spends £7.5 billion tackling depression each year, including £266 million on antidepressants alone. Rather shocking statistics aren’t they? However, a major review and study from Kings College Hospital in London found that 20 minutes of exercise a day reduced patients symptoms dramatically.


In addition, the review of 49 studies, involving 266,000 people, found that  found those following the guidance were 31 per cent less likely to develop depression over the seven and a half year research period compared to those who did not meet the advised NHS levels of exercise.


Around one in 4 people will suffer from a form of mental health issue every year and around 2.14 million people a year are suffering from depression at any given time. Which leads to approximately 91million working days lost each year due to days taken off for mental health issues like depression and anxiety.


How Exercise Can Help Depression


Regardless of your age or where you live, physical activity can reduce the risk of having depression later in life and can help you if you are suffering from mild to moderate levels of depression. Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people. 


Moderate means:


  1. That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
  2. That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.


Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energise your spirits and make you feel good. 

Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.


Types of Exercises to Try


If you are currently suffering from mild to moderate depression don’t try to push yourself too hard. Start with a small step that seems achievable and gradually increase the amount of exercise as you feel able to do so. That feeling of having achieved something, however small, is also highly beneficial. Remember, we are aiming for 20 minutes a day but it’s absolutely fine to start with 5 minutes.




Some Ideas:


You could try getting out for a nice walk in nature (nature is another uplifter) 

Gardening (another activity with the benefit of being in nature)) 

Going to the gym or for a swim

Trying a Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi class or doing one of those (or something similar) at home if you can’t face a class environment at the moment.


When you are ready to move to a group situation, you will find that the social interaction also helps to lift your mood.


If you’re fitter, you could try taking up jogging or go for longer workouts or more cardiovascular workouts that will really pump those endorphins around your body. 


Depression:  The numbers


91 million - days lost to depression/anxiety and stress each year

£26 billion - cost to business through lost productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover

300,000 - people forced to leave jobs each year because of depression, anxiety or stress

64.7 million - prescriptions for antidepressants on NHS

£266 million - cost to the NHS for antidepressants

£7.5 billion - total cost of depression to NHS

£105 billion - total cost of poor mental health to English economy