Depression and Physical activity
Depression is common but what people experience is very individual. Sadness and a loss of interest in the things you normally enjoy accompany a wide range of other physical and emotional symptoms.
Some people say that ‘overanalysing and worrying’ about things makes them feel stuck in cycles of ‘negative thinking’. 1 Many feel lonely or isolated, which can make them, feel ‘worthless’ and less confident. Some physicalsymptoms can often include aches and pains, tiredness, too much or too little sleep, being unable to eat, headaches, dizziness and shakes.
Evidence suggests that exercise improves these depressive symptoms. 2 Doing more physical activity involves a positive lifestyle change in depression where behavior can sometimes be very passive (a tendency to remain inactive in bad situations), isolated and withdrawn. 3 Doing more can also have an affect on our thoughts. Many people find that doing more distracts them from thinking about things too deeply and mulling over issues. 4 As time passes by, longer relief is felt when the regular meaningful activity replaces the negative thoughts. Exercising the body also improves the tiredness and painful symptoms of depression – as the old saying goes: ‘healthy body, healthy mind’.Doing what is right for you may take some time to work out. Some people find that doing exercise on their own is an important personal time. Some look forward to combining their activity with listening to their favourite music. Others find that their feelings of loneliness and isolation reduce by doing it with others.
Physical Activity Recommendations for inactive adults with DepressionAim to do the following three types of activity:
- Aerobic activity at relative moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week – one way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least five days each week.
- Muscle strengthening activity on two or more days a week which work all major muscles groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulder and arms)
- Flexibility exercises on a daily basis
The Three Types of Activity and Depression
You may find the following weekly approach useful if you have been inactive for a while.
Aerobic activity, also known as endurance activity, is when large muscle movements, maintained over a period of time, make the heart and lungs work harder.
Activity? – Any type that you can maintain comfortably is ideal. Choose exercises that you enjoy, such as walking, cycling or group fitness classes. There is evidence that aerobic activities involving being in nature, such as gardening or hiking, reduces stress, increases positive thinking and aids concentration. 5
How long (duration)? – One approach to meet the recommendations is to do at least 30 minutes per day. You can split your sessions to a minimum of 10 minutes to reach your total. If you have been inactive for a long time, start with short sessions and increase the time as your body allows and you feel more confident. Remember not to sit for hours. A regular break from sitting every hour is healthy.
How hard (intensity)? -Try to progress gradually over time to a relatively moderate-intensity activity. Doing moderate intensity activity means that you feel warm, mildly out of breath and mildly sweaty. The ‘talk test’ is a simple way to measure moderate intensity. Whilst you are working, you can still talk, but not sing, during the activity
How often (frequency)? – – if you aim to do 30 minutes per day then do this at least 5 times per week so that you can reach a total of 150 mins a week. Distribute sessions over the week and aim to have no more than 2 consecutive days without physical activity. When you start any new activity make sure you give your body enough time to recover and adapt between sessions.
Once your aerobic fitness improves, consider adding strength training on at least 2 days a week. Improved muscle tone can also help you gain better shape and improve the way you look and feel. Stronger, larger muscles use up more calories for energy so it can help you maintain your body fat. Some activities, such as climbing stairs, digging the garden or walking up hill, combine aerobic and muscle strengthening types.
These activities should work all the major muscle groups in your body such as legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. When strengthening a muscle group, begin by familiarising the movement with little or no load.
If you are using weights such as dumbbells, try to do at least 1 set of 8-12 repetitions per activity. The correct weight choice is the one which is hard to complete by the end of the set. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like doing a sit up or bicep curl.
Daily flexibility exercises can prevent pain, stiffness, and injury of muscles and joints. People often experience a sense of wellbeing and relaxation during flexibility exercises. Some quick and simple movements can be found in our separate exercise sheet. Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are examples of some activities which combine strength and flexibility as well as balance training.
- If you have led a very sedentary lifestyle, begin by doing low intensity exercise of short duration, e.g. 10 minutes. Increase your level of activity gradually to avoid injury
- Stop exercising if you feel dizzy, sick, unwell or very tired.
- See a doctor if you are having chest pain, black outs or breathlessness on mild exertion.
Please see the following safety considerations if you have other long term health conditions.
- Angina (Coronary Heart Disease)
- Previous Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)
- Cardiovascular Risk
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
DisclaimerThis leaflet has been provided for information only. ALWAYS check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your condition or treatment. Prescription4exercise.com is not responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for ANY form of damages whatsoever resulting from the use (or misuse) of information contained in or implied by this information.
- Healthtalkonline.org ↩
- Rimer J, Dwan K, Lawlor DA, Greig CA, McMurdo M, Morley W, Mead GE. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004366. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub5 ↩
- Swedish National Institute of Public Health. Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease. Professional Associations for Physical Activity, Sweden, 2010. www.fyss.se ↩
- Healthtalkonline.org ↩
- Townsend, Mardie and Mahoney, Mary (2004) Ecology, people, place, and health, in Keleher, Helen and Murphy, Berni (eds), Understanding health : a determinants approach, pp. 269-275, Oxford University, South Melbourne, Vic ↩