By Christopher Pegony, BS, CSCS
The day-to-day struggle is real! The world is moving at an alarming speed, and most of us are like ducks in water; while on the surface we look like we have it together, our feet are moving at a furious pace just to stay afloat. Depression, anxiety and a number of other mental issues are all too prevalent. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 18.5 percent of Americans experience mental illness in any given year. Depression is the leading cause of disability, and serious mental illness costs $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
However, there is a way to combat depression and anxiety all while getting healthier. One study showed that just walking three times a week for 20–40 minutes could alleviate symptoms of depression. In a review by the Mayo Clinic, exercise was shown to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, our feel good brain chemicals, as well as our body temperatures, which has a calming effect.
Exercise may seem like the last thing you would want to do when you are feeling down or overwhelmed, however studies have shown that it can work as well as, if not better than, medication. A study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 divided men and women in to three different groups — one group did nothing but take part in an aerobic exercise program, another took Zoloft and the third did both. At the 16-week mark, 60–70 percent of the people in the study could no longer be classified as having major depression. The scores among the three groups turned out to be about the same, indicating that exercise was as effective as medication. The only difference was that the group on antidepressants had a faster response.
Exercise can help not only physiologically, but also mentally. How often do you get to think about ONE thing? Our minds are often riddled with the many pressures of life. An intense workout will force your mind to think about taking the next breath, completing the next rep, or finishing a movement so you can rest. It allows you to be present in the moment. Whatever else ails you suddenly disappears. This singularity is difficult to obtain. You see it when musicians are playing music, artists are painting or professional athletes are playing. Since most of us aren’t musicians, artists or professional athletes, exercise is our key to unlocking this phenomenon!
It takes a seasoned exerciser to start to look forward to a workout. For most of us it is a chore. It takes forward thinking — you have to understand that you are not going to feel like doing exercising before or even during your workout. You have to look ahead to how you are going to feel afterward. This is a difficult concept to understand since most things in our society happen with a click of a button. However, the benefits of exercise, both on your physical and mental health are worth the effort.
Just performing mild exercise can have a positive impact on your mood, so there’s no need to jump right into an intense exercise regimen. Try adding some squats and pushups to your morning routine, or take advantage of the longer days and go walking, running or biking after work!