Science says there’s reason to believe that exercise helps with depression

By Ea Francisco | Photo by Nourdine Diouane/Unsplash

The word of the week is depression and the wisdom we learned in the last 24 hours is how not to respond when someone says they have depression.

There’s a list of things you just don’t do, and I’m pretty sure dismissing their problem and telling them it’s made up is on the top of that metaphorical list. One thing you can do however is suggest some well-informed ways to help them overcome it. Like exercise.

While there’s yet to be a clear-cut connection between exercise and depression, there’s evidence that shows it can help keep the condition at bay. A study by the American Journal of Psychiatry exhibited that among the 22,000 participants, the ones who said they didn’t exercise at the beginning of the study were 44 percent more likely to become depressed compared with participants who exercised at least an hour or two a week. It isn’t just statistical; there’s a chemical reason behind it.

To better understand, you first have to realize that depression is a legitimate clinical disorder. There are even medications for it in severe cases. People suffering from depression don’t choose to be sad or unmotivated. Chemical imbalances from the brains are physically making it difficult for some people to perform day-to-day activities.

A study by the American Journal of Psychiatry exhibited that among the 22,000 participants, the ones who said they didn’t exercise were 44 percent more likely to become depressed

It’s for this reason we can believe that exercise helps ease it. When you exercise, you release endorphins and dopamine. Endorphin is a neurotransmitter released in response to stress and it gives off the feeling of euphoria and well-being. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that gives the feeling of pleasure from rewards and makes you motivated to take action. These two together help and maybe even prevent the effects of depression.

There are a lot of formerly-depressed celebrities who can swear by this, too. Did you know that Ironman’s own Gwyneth Paltrow suffered from postpartum depression? She revealed in one episode of Oprah that rigorous exercise and healthy eating helped her overcome it. Even Lindsay Lohan used exercise to get rid of her destructive habits back in 2011.

Now, we’re not saying that just exercising is the magic cure to this unexplainable behavior. One thing we can tell you is that depression isn’t just a phase or a mood. Even though exercise can help, it’s still painfully difficult for people who have this to even get up in the morning, let alone do physical activity.

So while science is still hard at work to uncover stronger connections between exercise and depression, the best we can do for now is exercise understanding—towards people who are suffering from it as well as people who need to be educated about the reality of depression. And then perhaps, if you’re up for it, go run and soak up the sun.