I have struggled with depression a few times in my lifetime. Once as a teenager and again when I had postpartum depression after miscarrying twins.  I was drowning in depression. Depression can be crippling.

After the miscarriage, I spent much of the time telling myself,  “I can make it through the next fifteen minutes.” Then I repeated it.  I survived 15 minutes at a time for quite some time and sometimes for 5 minutes at a time.

As a teenager, I did several things to combat the depression. I began dancing more often, running, and reading as many positive books as I could get my hands one. I believe that exercise had a huge impact on my depression. During my bout of postpartum depression I wanted to exercise, and now I know I could have. But at the time it just seemed too difficult. Too painful! I survived simply on my will to be here for my kids.

Perhaps medication would have sped up my healing process. Medications can be an effective solution for many people. Studies have shown that many people are able to reverse depression, without medication, by changing one’s activity level.

With or without medication, increased physical activity can have a significant impact on one’s ability to overcome those mental and emotional challenges. After all, it’s always a good idea to incorporate exercise into one’s lifestyle  But if you’re feeling depressed, it is an especially good time.

Exercise comes in many different forms and you can likely find a regimen that fits you. I for one love to dance and have been known to turn on some my favorite dance music from high school and simply dance, dance, dance like I used to when I was younger.

Riding a bike on those beautiful spring and autumn days is another great way to incorporate some exercise into one’s life.  And you will likely find that you even enjoy those regular trips to the gym once you make it routine. I know for me as soon as I put on my exercise music track that is full of dance/club music I usually instantly want to work out.

It’s important to avoid overdoing it with your new exercise routine. Ease into the type of physical activity that sounds the most enjoyable and see how you feel before adding more.

Here are five effective strategies to fight depression with exercise:

1. Go for What is Known as the Runner’s High

Following a good workout, your body will experience what is known as a runner’s high.  It’s that “feel good” feeling which is a result of the endorphin surge in your body. The temporary mood lift that this endorphin surge provides can be beneficial in reducing depression on a short-term basis.  I certainly found that was the case for me.  When I was young I was able to effectively able to combat depression by incorporating a daily run into my routine.  In fact, I found I “had to run” every day.  I craved it.

  • So when you’re feeling overwhelmed, tense, or down, try for that temporary pick me up in the form of a workout. Now would be the perfect time for a short walk, a  few minutes on a treadmill or elliptical, or for a ride your bicycle. Dropping in on a local yoga, or Pilate class can provide you with a boost of endorphins to pick up your mood.
  • Work out for at least 30 minutes.  That seems to be the magic number that researchers found effective in combating the symptoms of depression.  Plus it can also provide you with a boost of energy and concentration, which can help to reduce some of the negative feelings associated with depression.

2. Improve Your Physical Strength and Improve Your Overall Well-being

Strength training is a great way to improve your health and well-being, which can reduce symptoms of depression. Lifting dumbbells, for example, can build long, lean muscle, which improves metabolism and builds a stronger and healthier body.

  • While strength training may not directly impact your depression symptoms, its ability to improve your health can have long-term effects on your overall well-being.

3. Exercise Daily

Exercise at least 30 minutes each day, six days per week. According to the Journal of Preventive Medicine, several weeks after you establish this regular exercise routine, you’ll begin to feel the relief of your depression symptoms on a much more consistent basis.

4. Replace Some Medications with Exercise

The Journal of Preventive Medicine recently featured a study of patients with depression who worked out for at least 3 hours per week. This study found that the remission of these patients’ symptoms was comparable to cognitive behavioral therapies and medication treatments.

  • While exercise may not be able to completely replace your need for other treatment options, it can benefit your mental well-being in many ways, making it an excellent way to balance the therapies that you rely on for relief.
  • If you’re currently in treatment or taking medication, discuss any changes in therapy or medications with your doctor before you change them.

5. Develop an Exercise Routine

Developing a regular routine for exercise can have numerous benefits. Not only will you be combating your depression with exercise itself, but also having a routine to look forward to can boost your spirits and ward off the overwhelming feelings of depression.

The Bottom Line

Depression can negatively impact your life in many ways. Experiment with different therapy and treatment options to get the help you need. Exercise is a great way to reduce the symptoms associated with depression: helping to clear your mind and improve your energy, while also giving you a general sense of well-being.

If you don’t already have a regular exercise regimen and you’re suffering from depression, then this is a treatment option that is well worth considering. It may work well in conjunction with current treatment options or it may replace those treatment options altogether. Please consult with your physician to learn more.

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