CLEVELAND – It’s well known that exercise that gets the blood flowing is good for our hearts and overall physical health.
But, a recent study is showing how aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activities can boost our moods as well.
The study looked at data on 17,839 U.S. adults.
Researchers found when people performed a combination of physical activity such as walking, running and cycling, and muscle-strengthening exercises, they had lower levels of depressive symptoms compared to people who did not exercise.
“We know that during vigorous aerobic exercise we’re releasing endorphins and pain-relieving substances,” said Cleveland Clinic’s Scott Bea, PsyD, who did not take part in the study. “We suspect that other mood-regulating chemicals are being released as well, such as serotonin; and dopamine – the ‘feel-good’ chemical. And we think all of those can be byproducts of activity, and exercise in particular, so there are biological explanations for this.”
Dr. Bea said either aerobic exercise or lifting weights can help ward off depression, but this study shows when we combine them together, the protective effects are even greater.
However, he said for those who are struggling with depression, often, one of the hardest things to do is to get up and get moving.
For people having a hard time getting motivated, Dr. Bea suggests taking advantage of the change in seasons. He said it can be helpful to get in more time outdoors after being cooped up for the winter.
“When the weather gets a little warmer, we see other people outside – walking, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, so there are other people modeling forms of activity,” he said. “We might start to do home repairs to the outside of our house; get gardens ready, cleanup for our yards for the spring, and so there’s this boost in activity that’s promoting those good chemicals in our brain too.”
Dr. Bea reminds us that if exercise isn’t a part of our daily routines, it can take up to two months to create a new habit.
“It’s hard to get started, and starting anything new – a new initiative like exercise – is difficult,” he said. “We have to assume and to accept there will be a little discomfort in the beginning.”
Complete results of the study can be found in Preventive Medicine.