Many people know working out plays a big role in physical health, but it can also have a huge impact on mental well-being as well.

Research shows regular exercise can relieve stress, reduce depression and improve cognitive function, enhancing one’s ability to better take life in stride. A recent survey by Stress In America ™ uncovered that over one-third of adults (37 percent) report exercising less than once a week, or not at all.

Today, nearly one in twelve adults in the U.S. deals with depression. With October being National Depression Awareness Month, below are a few tips for improving your mental health through physical exercise.

How does regular exercise help combat anxiety and depression?

Physical activity stimulates brain chemistry in different areas that regulate moods. Research shows that working out helps the brain release endorphins and produce serotonin, which creates the feeling of well-being and happiness.

Through my time as a personal trainer and owner of a Fitness Together studio, I’ve worked with many clients who are dealing with the daunting symptoms of anxiety and depression. Our personal trainers work with the client to help identify the cause of the depression, including contributing factors like lifestyle, diet, sleep schedule and pain levels. Once the cause is identified, trainers can customize a wellness program for each client that helps address the contributing factors. In addition to regularly scheduled training sessions, these programs often include simple lifestyle changes like going for short outdoor walks on sunny days to increase serotonin levels. One Australian study, that measured levels of brain chemicals flowing directly out of the brain, found people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones. Another lifestyle change could be eating more of specific food groups that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (like fish and vegetables) or ensuring the client gets consistent and adequate levels of sleep.

What type of exercise is best and for how long?

People often debate what type of exercise is the best, but the truth is any form of physical activity will help. Getting out of the house and doing something to get your blood pumping is a must when dealing with depression. Find something that’s enjoyable for you – whether it’s swimming, hiking, running, hitting the gym with your personal trainer or just taking a brisk walk around the park.

When it comes to the duration and frequency of exercise, a recent study showed that working out about three times per week is the minimal frequency needed to reduce stress levels. To see the benefits of this frequency on your health, it is recommended that each session last between 35-60 minutes.

How to stay motivated

If someone is feeling the symptoms of depression, getting out of the house to do something physical might seem like the least desirable thing to do. But once completed, it can make a massive difference. Here are a few tips for maintaining the motivation needed to kick depression through fitness.

  • Set a schedule and stick to it– Make personal well-being a daily must. Set aside 30-minutes to one hour, at the same time each day, to do something active. (working out, going for a jog, etc.)
  • Get an accountability partner– When the feelings of depression arise, it can seem easy to pass on a workout, but if somebody else is counting on you to show up (like a workout partner or personal trainer), it can hold you accountable as well.
  • Do something you love- It’s easier to commit to an exercise regimen when it’s something you enjoy. Whether it’s finding a personal trainer you like, a workout program that motivates you or an outdoor activity that brings a smile to your face, do something you love and it won’t seem like an obligation.
  • Set small daily wellness goals- Try to set small goals every day and each week centered around physical wellness. The brain is a reward center. Think of it this way. Every time you check a text message or get a social media “like” it releases a dopamine hit in the brain. That same dopamine hit happens when you complete a task or achieve a goal. – This is particularly effective in a social setting (i.e. working out with someone). · When we exercise with others, we also produce a chemical called oxytocin, which plays a role in social bonding. Dopamine and oxytocin work together with serotonin and other endorphins to help improve our moods. 

The Takeaway

Depression is an issue that affects many people throughout the U.S. Through an active and healthy lifestyle, the symptoms of depression can diminish or disappear altogether. So, get out, find something you enjoy doing and move more! If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of lingering depression, it is a good idea to consult a medical professional. To receive 24/7 free and confidential support from a professional, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

**All thoughts within this article are my own and are not reflective of the Fitness Together® brand at large.