10 Great Exercises to Keep Depression at Bay

  • Exercise Spinning Class
    Fight depression with these 10 great exercises.
    Depression can hit at any time in your life. Often, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising, but studies show it can actually help you feel better. Research suggests performing an exercise program 30 minutes a day, 4-5 times a week, may help keep depression at bay, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep and self-esteem. Gym membership not required! Many of these exercises can be performed at home or work.

  • couple-running-on-beach
    Try high intensity interval training.
    Clocking in at 20-30 minutes a day, interval training is a time-saving mood booster. Studies found this workout to be as good as longer, slower exercise regimes like jogging when it comes to burning belly fat, improving your cardio-respiratory fitness level (VO2), and lowering cholesterol. This type of exercise involves spurts of rigorous activity followed by intervals of less intense movements or rest. After warming up with a 5-minute walk, run for a minute, then walk for 2 minutes. Do 5-7 cycles. Finish with a 5-minute cool-down.

  • Holding a stretch
    Do posture exercises.
    Recent studies show a slouched body posture can evoke feelings of depression, while standing upright can actually help reverse them. One way to start standing tall: Stretch your chest muscles. Tight pectoral muscles are known to weaken your upper back, giving you a hunched-over look. So start stretching! Stand in a doorway, arms out to your side, resting on doorframe at shoulder level. Keep your ribcage over your pelvis and lean forward, with one leg lunged forward through the doorway. Be careful not to arch your back. Hold 30 for seconds. Switch legs. Repeat.

  • Yoga
    Yoga may boost relaxation in your body.
    Yoga not only helps your flexibility and strength, it can also help you relax. One theory is yoga increases a neurotransmitter in your body called GABA, which results in calming the mind. Studies indicate participants who performed yoga consistently showed increased levels of GABA and experienced significant reductions in depression, anger, and anxiety. Performing the child's pose and cat pose may help you feel calmer.

  • Hands of yoga man
    Breathe anxiety away.
    Try this a few times a day: Breathe deeply into your belly for a count of 4. Then exhale for a count of 6. Repeat 5 times. Stress causes your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight system) to kick into high gear, leaving you feeling on edge. Studies suggest taking deep breaths where you exhale longer than you inhale stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This puts the brakes on the sympathetic system, helping you calm down.

  • Group of young women doing aerobics class at gym
    Exercise with a group.
    Zumba, spin, and other group exercise classes are a great way to help defeat depression symptoms. Mental health experts say group classes can help you find that sense of belonging, as well as encourage you to work harder during your workout. Exercising at a higher intensity level gets your heart pumping and blood flowing, energizing you to face the day. Plus, it's a great way to socialize and connect with people who share a common interest.

  • smiling blonde Caucasian female running on treadmill at gym wearing earbuds
    Running triggers your body's own "feel good" chemicals.
    Running can stimulate the release of "feel good" endorphins, which are believed to be responsible for the euphoric mood some runners experience after an energizing run called "runner's high." Running for 30 minutes 4-5 times a week reportedly can help you fight feelings consistent with depression. Enjoying the outdoor scenery or running with a friend can also help distract you from your worries.

  • bike 84410545 47
    Hitting the trail may encourage positive thoughts.
    Going for a long bike ride or walk along a beautiful path can help take your mind off your troubles as you focus on appreciating the landscape while engaging in a decent cardio workout. Aim for 30 minutes and try to add uphill work to boost that intensity. Pick up the pace with your footwork at times or do some sprints on the bike. In cases of bad weather, stay indoors and hit the treadmill or stationary bike while listening to some upbeat music.

  • Couple laughing
    Experts say laughter can cause physical changes in your body, including increasing endorphin production and affecting your stress reaction, resulting in a relaxed feeling. It even burns calories. One study out of Vanderbilt University reportedly found 10-15 minutes of laughter can burn 50 calories. Take a moment every day to look in the mirror, smile, and start to laugh. Force it if you have to. Just watching yourself will generate more laughter!

  • jump rope
    Jump rope.
    Jumping rope is an inexpensive exercise routine you can take anywhere. You can vary the intensity going from high, involving one jump each time the rope passes, to a lower level by slowing the rope and adding an extra little jump. You can even try marching through each turn of the rope as you build up your stamina. Eight to 10 minutes can really get your heart pumping. Be sure to wear proper footwear and gradually increase the intensity of this workout.

  • woman picking up weights
    Tone up.
    Lifting weights addresses muscle imbalances and strengthens you, enabling you to perform daily activities with more ease. Mental health experts say toning up not only gives your backside that lift, but also your spirits, as you see the positive results of your hard work. A general overall strengthening and stretching program is recommended three days a week. Start light and work up gradually. A personal trainer or physical therapist can help show you proper form to avoid injury.

10 Great Exercises to Keep Depression at Bay
  1. Increase or Decrease Depression: How Body Postures Influence Your Energy Level. Biofeedback. 40(3):125-130. (http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/a-published-increase-or-decrease-depression.pdf...
  2. No joke: Study finds laughing can burn calories (http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu:8080/reporter/index.html?ID=4030)
  3. The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/)
  4. Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15626549)
  5. Energy expenditure of genuine laughter (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16652129)
  6. Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20722471)
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Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 1
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