I read this somewhere recently and it really resonated with me. Mostly because it’s true:
A Healthy Body Empowers the Mind.
Depression is a real bitch, let’s be real. You may have wondered if exercise can cure depression and I have some good news for you based on experience.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional or expert of any kind. However, I have been diagnosed with various mental health disorders in the past including clinical depression, PTSD and anxiety. What I’m about to share here are my personal thoughts based on MY OWN experience.
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Before I get into it, just a little background first:
I’m not going to dig too deep into my past here, however, sexual abuse is a part of my past and you can couple that with an extensive family history of clinical depression and other mood disorders. So basically, I’m pretty much hardwired for some kind of mental health struggle. I’ve experienced something that was far worse than simply “the blues”.
I can’t tell you how many people kept telling me I was “just sad” and to “snap out of it”. Easy for them to say! For those who aren’t familiar, clinical depression isn’t easily “snapped out of”. If you’re struggling, or have struggled with depression, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Only those experiencing depression can understand it.
From 1999 through today, I have been prescribed the following medications at one time or another:
*Seroquel (usually in combination with an antidepressant to help with sleep in the beginning)
*Wellbutrin (to counteract the lack of energy and sexual side effects that Lexapro and Paxil caused)
I was either on Lexapro or Prozac or Paxil; I was never on any of them at the same time. The Seroquel and Wellbutrin were always in conjunction with one of them.
Can exercise cure depression?
Not once did a medical doctor or therapist ever recommend exercise as part of my treatment plan. In all their education and experience, you’d think they’re well aware of the positive effects exercise can have on the brain? And of course, the body?
I had never had a doctor even ask me IF I exercise until I saw a new ob/gyn in April 2012. And you know what? She was THRILLED when I told her that I was regularly active and how much it’s helped me. That brought a tear to my eye.
It also made me wonder why in the hell doctors or therapists hadn’t brought up the idea with me at some point before this.
I do understand that I needed the therapy I’ve received all along but how stupid (and also a blessing of course) that I discovered on my own how much working out actually helps me.
Involvement in structured exercise has shown promise in alleviating symptoms of clinical depression. – via NIH
I’m not gonna sit here and say I’ve had the hardest time of all people since the beginning of all the world, but I do know what it feels like to struggle, to lose hope, to be angry at God and to lose all interest in life and everything in it. I know what it feels like to not care if I die. I know the pain of wanting to die so the pain will stop. The beginning of the summer of 1998 was the last time I felt “normal”. Whatever that is…
But let me be clear.
I’m not saying antidepressants are bad.
Not at all. At the time of my diagnosis, I’m pretty confident that exercise alone couldn’t have saved me. I could hardly get off my bedroom floor (or bed) sometimes. Looking back at this moment, I often wonder how I made it through certain days because if I think on it too much, I can still feel how sad I felt then. That’s crazy to me.
The medication is definitely what helps me get out of bed some days…and into the shower. The medication allowed me to kind of start a snowball to betterness, if that makes sense. It gave me the strength to want to make changes in my life.
Back to the beginning of this fitness blog…
In 2008, I started my fitness journey (and this blog as my accountability) and the reason I started then is that I was wanting to lose the weight I had gained after having my second son via c-section. It started as a cosmetic reason and now I’m forever changed because of all of the positive things it’s given me or done for me.
It definitely didn’t happen overnight, but it’s something I realized well into my journey. I didn’t pick up a pair of dumbbells one day and feel “cured” the next day. But you know what? I did feel stronger with my very first workout. I felt good and it just gradually got better and better. I felt good about lifting weights! It hasn’t turned me into little miss sunshine and bunnies all the live long day, and no I don’t love working out but I’m feeling SO. MUCH. BETTER. And now I notice the bunnies and sunshine parts of life a lot more. Because they ARE there.
The positive moments are always there but depression tries to force you to not be able to see them. Depression just wants you to worry and think the worst all the time.
I think good workouts are like therapy. When you’re putting all you’ve got into your workouts and expending that energy in a physical way like that, it feels like a huge release every time. You end up feeling good and empowered because you accomplished something. And it ends up helping you sleep like a baby too.
Will exercise cure your depression?
I honestly have no idea because I don’t know your depression. I only know my depression and my experience. But like I said, I know I’ve needed the therapy I’ve received all along because it has given me the tools I need to manage depression and anxiety. I feel like anti-depressants saved my life in the beginning, especially when used in conjunction with therapy, but I think there comes a time when you at least have to try things like exercise and eating well to see if it helps to improve your quality of life even more.
“If you are in a bad mood go for a walk.If you are still in a bad mood go for another walk.”
It seems like the higher the intensity, the more it helps and the better I feel.
I don’t think medication on its own can give you the best possible outcome. I personally feel like you need to make a conscious effort in other areas of your life to improve things even more but medication can help you with the extra push you might need to get started.
If you’re otherwise healthy and are able to exercise (even walk), it certainly can’t hurt, right? At the very least, it’s very possible that you’ll lessen the severity of your depression with some physical activity and that’s a step in the right direction.
Workouts That May Help Depression Most
I don’t have scientific proof, but these are the workouts that always seem to help me most. I want to share them in case they help you too:
- HIIT workouts
- Heavy lifting workouts
- Running (I hate running but I can’t lie, it’s always a mood booster)
I’ve never felt worse after a workout; always the opposite. And the good feeling doesn’t last forever, that’s why I keep trying to keep at it. That’s why I try to make healthy living a lifestyle. I’m not always excited about it, but if it keeps me at a lower dose of medication — or maybe even allow me to not need medication — that’s motivation enough for me!
I know what you’re thinking. How on earth can I get/stay/be motivated enough to even attempt exercise? While exercise could potentially be a possible anti-depressant medication substitute for some, the tough part lies in staying motivated while depressed. If you can’t stay on a regular exercise schedule, it’s not really gonna work, is it?
Can exercise help depression all by itself?
It’s probably a stretch to say that exercise can cure depression (especially clinical depression) all by itself. I do think it can help. Over the last 11 years of my fitness journey, I definitely feel better when I’m working out on a regular basis. Exercise alone doesn’t “cure” me; it’s a mixture of therapy and learning tools and strategies to deal with depression, ongoing personal development, working out on a mostly regular basis, eating healthy a lot of the time and falling down more than I’d like to admit because I’m far from perfect.
I am not obsessed with fitness; quite the opposite. I just know how much it helps my mindset. And I share this all with you because I want you to experience that too. Depression is always a fight, we just have to arm ourselves with the tools to battle!
And keep praying for an actual cure. <3 Even though depression really sucks, I do think that it makes us fighters. People struggling with any type of mood disorder or mental illness are some of the strongest people in the world; at least in my eyes. It’s not easy battling with your brain on a daily basis.
*Always consult a doctor prior to starting an exercise program and NEVER attempt to stop taking meds without the guidance of your physician.
You got this,
Exercise and Depression Report Excerpt:
Walking for Depression or Depressive Symptoms: a systematic review
Prescribing Exercise to Treat Depression: