By Gabe Sanders PhD, NSCA-CSCS
Many people with one or more chronic diseases often suffer from depression or depressive symptoms. While there is no easy way to cope or cure depression, a natural therapy that has been found to be effective for many people is to exercise or be physically active with other people. Physical activity /exercise increases endorphins that circulate in your brain. These endorphins can improve your pain tolerance and improve your perception of your pain leaving you feeling better or reducing your symptoms of depression.
Weight gain a secondary effect of depression
Physical inactivity and weight gain is a secondary effect of depression. It is difficult to decipher the exact cause/ effect of weight gain and physical inactivity. Many people who are depressed turn to eating as a coping method. In addition to eating an excessive amount of calories, these people do not feel like exercising, going for a walk or being somewhat physically active. It is well known that being physical activity and exercising helps you lose weight. Convincing someone with depression to engage in exercise can be a challenge.
Be physically active with a friend or family member
A potential method to help an individual suffering from depression is to be physically active with him/ her and to engage in some physical activities without making him/ her aware of it. Over time, physical activity/exercise will directly improve an individual’s physical health. Perhaps more important than the health benefits, the psychosocial benefits gained may be equally or even more beneficial when helping someone cope with depression. If you are a friend or family member of someone suffering from depression, you do not need to be a psychiatrist/ psychologist. More often than not, individuals suffering from depression need someone to be there. Directly/ indirectly helping someone become more active and taking an interest in their health may, over time, help with their depression.
In general, walking and talking for 20-30 minutes 3-5 days per week is an ideal way to help alleviate depressive symptoms. Another possibility is to volunteer to help someone clean his/ her house or the garage. For some, cleaning is a good way to relieve stress, but getting motivated to clean is half the battle. If a person enjoys going to the gym to exercise; go with him/ her to the gym!
The key is to find activities that are enjoyable for the person coping with depression and to participate in the activities together. Preventing a depressed person from becoming socially isolated is also part of the equation to better health.
*For more examples of exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
**Consult with a physician and/or medical healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen
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Freedman et al. 2005. Relationship of depression, anxiety, and social isolation to chronic heart failure outpatient mortality. American Heart Journal. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ahj.2006.05.009.