Understanding depression and how sports and exercise can help.

What is depression?

Depression is a common condition in our modern world. It is a complex disorder, one that is linked to your mood and overall feeling of health and wellness. In fact, depression may be defined as a mood disorder disease, influenced by psychological, physiological, and environmental factors. It is however a lot more complex than just your everyday mood swings.

It is associated with long-lasting feelings of:

  • Sadness,
  • Anxiety,
  • Feeling overwhelmed,
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed,
  • Feeling worthless or guilty.

These depressive states may last anything from two weeks to months, even years. Generally, normal mood changes vary within the day and you may experience fluctuations for a couple of days however it should not last longer than two weeks. It is important to note that drastic changes in one’s life may lead to depression, such as the loss of a family member, job loss, divorce etc. So, the environment we live in is particularly important. If you have experienced any of these changes, please watch yourself carefully as this could be a trigger for depression.

Physical symptoms of depression may include:

  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain,
  • Loss of sexual drive,
  • Impaired memory,
  • Disrupted sleep, either too much or too little
  • Difficulty concentrating.

There are other more serious symptoms such as reoccurring suicidal thoughts which require the immediate attention of a psychiatrist and/or psychologist.

Humans are often exposed to depression. Contributing factors include work conditions or a genetic predisposition. 2020 was a difficult year, the onset of COVID-19 and quarantine has led to a rise in depression and other mood-related disorders.

Consequently, it has become even more important to understand depression and the steps we can take to help ourselves and our loved ones.

Symptoms of depression as listed above might be mild or severe. However, depression has a big impact on your body, and it can lead to changes in your nervous system.

Functional and structural alterations associated with depression are common in the body. It can lead to irregularities in the productions of neurotransmitters. Dopamine and serotonin are your feel-good hormones that are not as easily produced if you are suffering from depression. Luckily, these hormones are produced during exercise. Exercise may be considered a natural anti-depressant. It is not there to replace medical treatment, but it can help you manage the symptoms. Especially anxiety, tiredness, and sleeplessness.

What is serotonin and what does it do?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that aids in transporting messages throughout the nervous system. It regulates mood, appetite, and the daily rhythm. Exercise increases serotonin levels, and tryptophan levels in the brain. This can leave you with a “feel-good feeling.”

Often depressed individuals are inactive due to the lack of motivation and the overall feeling of sadness. Exercise has an anti-depressive effect and therefore highly recommended for individuals struggling with moderate forms of depression.

If you are struggling with motivation, try doing a group activity with a friend or a loved one. Even if it something simple like walking for half an hour in the park. Small steps can make a big impact on the overall feeling of wellness.

Scientific research has also proven that physically active people have lower rates of depression than inactive people. Exercise improves mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress.

Fitness tips to incorporate in your daily life:

  • Minimum three times a week of moderate to active exercise. It can be a 30 min jog, bike ride, walk or dancing, anything to move your body. Frequent exercise rather than long exercise sessions is better for overall health. Ideally, you should do this five times a week.
  • All forms of enjoyable and fun exercise are recommended.
  • Include music in your exercise routine.
  • Ask a friend to participate with you.
  • Be patient when starting a new exercise program to ensure you continue the program.

If you find that these tips do not work for you and your symptoms continue, please visit a doctor. Mental health is just as important as physical health.