Depression is a common condition that affects approximately 10% of adults in the United States each year. Symptoms extend beyond a depressed mood. People experiencing depression are also likely to have symptoms of fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulties with concentration, and changes in appetite. Withdrawal from interests or activities is also common. Many people with depression also have physical symptoms. Persons experiencing thoughts of self-harm, including suicide, are of particular concern. These symptoms can dramatically affect how a person interacts with others or performs at work or school.
Thankfully, there are effective treatments for depression; and, more people experiencing depression are seeking care. I certainly recommend that those individuals whose depressive symptoms are significantly impacting their day-to-day lives or having thoughts of self-harm receive professional mental health evaluation and care. Treatments should be tailored to a person’s specific needs and preferences but could include medications, counseling, meditation, and other complementary therapies.
When discussing treatments for depression with my patients, I am often asked if there is a role for exercise in the treatment of depression. I have always encouraged physical activity for all my patients. Exercise has proven benefits for our physical health. Our mental health also benefits from exercise.
Sometimes people will ask what kind of activities they should engage in to best improve mood. Generally, I would recommend that you find an activity that you can enjoy. If you hate to run, going for a jog is not likely to boost your mood. Studies have been done to investigate what types of exercise might be the most helpful. There is not a clear answer on what activities are best. This allows exercise to be an individualized part of a person’s overall treatment plan.
One common finding in these studies is that there is not an adverse effect of exercise on mood. Select activities that you can enjoy and perform safely and participate in regularly. Both aerobic and resistance exercises have been shown to have positive effects on mood. Other activities that show benefits for depression include yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. It’s perfectly OK to participate in a variety of activities.
I enjoy cycling. My wife and I are avid bike riders. Be kind as you drive past in your car, please. But this is not the only activity that gets me outdoors and gives me a chance to clear my head. We are fortunate in south Utah County to have areas close by for hiking and snowshoeing. Being outdoors has shown benefits for mood apart from exercise. But that’s another topic for another day.
For those experiencing symptoms of depression, there are many different treatments available that can be effective. Physical activity can undoubtedly contribute to our overall mental health. See your doctor and discuss your symptoms and create a personalized approach. Include a type of exercise that you enjoy. Hopefully, I’ll see you out there on the trail or road.
Wesley Bott, DO
Canyon View Family Medicine