Can physical exercise contribute to better mental health in people experiencing mild to severe symptoms of depression and/or anxiety?
Picture this, you’re 16 years old and everything that should be exciting to you, feels like a 9am GCSE non calculator math exam. You desperately want to get out of bed and face the world, but for some reason your body lies frozen, unable to move. You close your eyes and fall asleep.
Just another 10 minutes. Your alarm goes off again and you still can’t move. You can’t face the day and decide it’s not worth it. You stay in bed all day, you can’t eat, you can’t drink and you have a horrendous headache that you just can’t shift.
This was me 6 years ago a lifeless 16 year old. Nobody knew what was wrong, but all I knew was that I was constantly battling a never ending stream of thoughts that had a tight grip of my whole body. I didn’t leave the house for nearly 3 months that year. I lost 3 stone in weight, and couldn’t even face my own parents.
The day came where I decided enough was enough, but I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. After a number of visits to a GP who had no idea what I was going through, I was prepared to just give up. I was ready to leave this world and everything in it.
I decided to give it one last go, I changed my GP. On the first appointment I poured my heart out to her, she sat and she listened not saying a word. After nearly an hour she decided it would be best to refer me to the resident mental health specialist and while I waited she gave me a prescription of Anti-depressants to help ease the symptoms.
Finally someone was listening to me. I have battled with symptoms of depression for almost 10 years and only now am I beginning to understand what I and many others are experiencing.
The Mental Health Foundation state that every year 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men suffer with depression and/or anxiety in the UK. After being on the NHS mental health waiting list for over 3 years and finally seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist and getting nowhere I decided to do some research of my own.
I’d heard that exercise was very good in releasing endorphins or “happy hormones” as they are more commonly called, but I had no idea how much impact it would actually have on my mental, physical and general health and wellbeing.
I decided to take up running as it was the cheapest option and I would be getting closer to nature just by going out of the front door. I never expected anything to change my life as much as that first step did. Within a week I felt refreshed, revitalized and relaxed.
I began to laugh more, I could concentrate much better, and everything looked like it was improving. Exercise is just as beneficial as anti-depressants to some people experiencing symptoms as I found out first hand.
The Mental Health Foundation conducted a survey asking people how they felt after partaking in exercise over a number of weeks. 85% of people who tried exercise found that they were able to cope better with their symptoms.
It would seem that exercise acts as a natural anti-depressant. The Mental Health Foundation say that regular exercise not only helps ease symptoms of depression and anxiety but helps towards reducing the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
I have carried on running to this day, and completed Chester 5K Race for life.
Having the goal to complete the race for life 5K gave me an incentive to get better. Anti-depressants were great short term as they eased my symptoms, but I am a firm believer of trying to get to the root cause of the symptoms rather than using medication to mask them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy wasn’t for me either as I felt I was leaving the sessions with massive blame on my parents, which actually made me feel worse. Everyone is different, but as it stands I believe everyone should give exercise a go, whether it be walking, running or taking up martial arts.
Find what suits you. Anything to get those happy hormones raging through your body. There is much evidence to suggest the best way forward is by putting your best foot forward.
Pinto Pereira, S.M., Geoffroy, M.C. and Power, C. (2014), ‘Depressive symptoms and physical activity during 3 decades in adult life’, Vol.71, No.12, pp.1373-1380
Dayantis. H, (2014), Leisure time physical activity linked to lower depression risk, Available fromhttps://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1014/151014-physical-activity-depression . [Electronically accessed 17 November, 2015.]
The Mental Health Foundation, (2005), Up and running! How exercise can help beat depression: Information for patients. United Kingdom: Mental Health Foundation.
NHS UK (2015), Exercise for depression, Available from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/exercise-for-depression.aspx . [Electronically accessed 9 December, 2015]
Anxiety and depression Association of America (2010), Exercise for stress and anxiety, Available from http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety . [Electronically accessed 9 December, 2015]
Mental Health Foundation, (2013), Lets get physical: the impact of physical activity on wellbeing.London: Mental Health Foundation.
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