Those who walk, jog, yoga, lift weights or do any type of exercise at least a few times a week are less likely to develop depression than sedentary people.
At a time that many Kenyans are depressed, according to an Infotrak research which showed that 81 percent of the population is anxious and stressed and a further 61 percent feeling lonely, exercising may help.
Dr Catherine Syengo Mutisya, a consultant psychiatrist says that exercising produces endorphins hormones (feel-good hormones) to relieve stress and pain.
That is why exercise is prescribed as a treatment for depression and anxiety, in addition to counselling, medication and the right diet.
Fitness trainer Jotham Kusienya of Muscle Health and Fitness in Nairobi also prescribes exercising as one of the remedies to fight depression.
He says regular exercises have psychological and emotional benefits other than the obvious body fitness.
Exercises, especially aerobic or cardiovascular, ease depression by boosting one’s energy levels and moods.
“Endorphins are our body’s natural morphine and, when released by special glands in our brains, they can produce a sense of well-being or joy and also decrease pain levels,” says Jotham.
A 30-minute or more exercise daily for between three and five days every week can work magic.
“I know that for a person experiencing depression or anxiety, exercising may be the least of their worries but even 10 to 15 minutes can make a big difference,” says Jotham.
But to break that yoke, first, figure out what type of exercises you like, then use it as therapy and not as a chore.
Yoga has been touted as one of the exercises with a myriad of health benefits as it works both the body and the mind, as sensations, thoughts, and emotions accompanying the different poses in the exercise can shift attention away from negative thoughts.
Running, speed walking, stair climbing, cycling, and swimming have also proven to be anti-depressants.
This is in addition to other workouts including jumping jerks, burpees, crunches, push-ups, high knees, among others, which can be performed at home without the need of going to a gym.
Although exercise is not a depression cure-all, research shows that it helps reduce levels of cortisol, sometimes known as the stress hormone.
Don’t be idle
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that helps the body respond to stress which spikes during times of high stress.
“Because exercising needs concentration, it helps one get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety. Being idle worsens depression so engaging in activity reduces the chance of the brain wandering as one is kept busy,” Jotham says.
Dr Mutisya adds that exercise is also good for general health as it lowers your chances of getting diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure.
Nonetheless, Dr Mutisya points out that exercises can only work best on an individual with mild depression. Someone already severely depressed cannot even manage to work out.
“To know when one is getting depressed, listen to tell-tale signs. How do you feel? How are you behaving? What are you thinking about? Do you have a loss of enthusiasm, or in prolonged periods of sadness,” she says.