If you’re battling the blues, doing some regular exercise may help. You could join a gym, go for regular walks or even take up yoga to ease your low mood or mild depression. Being more active can improve your mental wellbeing, as well as your physical health. It can help you feel good about yourself and make it easier for you to cope with stress.
Boosting brain chemicals
How exercise boosts your mood isn’t clear. But it may involve increasing your levels of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin. These chemicals help your brain cells communicate, grow and develop, which affects your mood and thinking. Changes in serotonin levels can trigger depression and seasonal affective disorder in some people.
Regular exercise is especially useful if you have mild to moderate depression. It causes fewer side-effects than taking antidepressants. It can be used on its own or with medicines and/or psychological treatments. Regular exercise can also help you sleep and reduce any anxiety and fatigue (extreme tiredness).
How much is enough?
Feeling down can sap your energy, which may put you off being more active. But you should feel better once you start moving. Any amount of exercise can help to boost your mood. Even a 15-minute walk can help to clear your mind and help you relax.
You may not feel like exercising every day, but it’s best to be active as regularly as you can. Ideally, aim for a ‘moderate intensity’ activity that makes you breathe faster, increases your heart rate and leaves you feeling warm. You may even sweat on a hot or humid day.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends people with mild to moderate depression take part in around three sessions of exercise a week for 10 to 14 weeks. Each session should last around 45 minutes to one hour.
The Department of Health suggests doing 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity on at least five days a week. This can prevent and manage over 20 long-term conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and mental health problems.
Types of exercise
Anything that gets you moving can help to boost your mood, as long as you enjoy it and do enough of it. Being active doesn’t mean you need to spend hours at the gym. Choose an activity you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, dancing, yoga or even skipping indoors. Make sure you can easily fit the activity into your daily life. If not, you may struggle to find the motivation to do it regularly. You could even try walking or cycling to work or climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift.
If you haven’t exercised for a while, or have any long-term health problems, speak to your GP. You may need to build more exercise into your life gradually. They may suggest some activities that you can try. If your low mood continues or affects your daily routine, make an appointment with your GP. In some areas, GPs can prescribe exercise as a treatment for a range of conditions, including depression.
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