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Benefits of Exercise in Recovery From Depression

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If you're just recovering from depression, you may still feel pretty exhausted. Putting on your sneakers and going to the gym could seem like the last thing you want to do. But the fact is that exercise is important for both your physical and mental health.

Many studies show that physical activity can help with recovery from depression. One such study showed that exercise -- three sessions of aerobic activity each week -- worked about as well as medication in reducing the symptoms of depression. In addition, the researchers found that after 10 months, people who exercised were much less likely to relapse than people who took medicine. The results were published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000. A 2005 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that moderate aerobic workouts, done three to five times weekly, cut mild to moderate depression symptoms nearly in half.

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Here are some tips to starting off a new exercise routine.

  • Start slow. Don't try to jump from a life of total inactivity right to marathon training! That will just leave you sore and demoralized. Instead, gradually work your way up. Start by exercising just for a short period of time -- a few minutes or more -- only on a few days of the week. Don't do more than that for a week or two. Slowly build up to exercising for half an hour or more, four days a week.
  • Break it up. You don't have to get all of your physical activity in a single stretch or with one activity. Many people prefer doing smaller sessions of exercise during the day and varying the types of exercise. Three 15 minute walks are as good as one 45 minute walk.
  • Pick something you enjoy. This advice may seem obvious. But a lot of people choose a sport not because they like it, but because they think that it will be good for them. If you treat exercise like a bitter medicine -- unpleasant but good for you -- you probably won't stick with it. Remember that there are a lot of activities to choose from, and they can be enjoyable: swimming in a local pool, using home fitness equipment in front of the TV, going for hikes, or taking a fun exercise class. Try different types of physical activity until you find one that you really like doing.
  • Exercise with other people. Solo physical activity is sometimes hard to stick to - it makes it easier to decide not to do it at that moment. But if you have a plan to exercise with someone else, you might feel more committed. So seek out an exercise partner. Make a date to walk with a neighbor at a specific time, on specific days. Or start up a regular tennis game with a friend. Many people find that structured classes -- like aerobics or yoga -- also help them stick with a program.
  • Get more everyday physical activity. Try adding a little extra physical activity whenever and wherever you can during your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little further away from your workplace, so you can sneak in some extra walking. Stuff your remote control under a couch cushion and get up to change the channel. Over time, little changes to your behavior can add up to a big improvement in your health!

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 08, 2014

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