No, seriously, the benefits of exercise are extraordinary.
I know they aren’t right about everything (cough cough ECT cough), but the Mayo Clinic has a great article about depression and anxiety and exercise.
Psychiatrists were writing about the importance of exercise in treating depression in 2004.
Exercise seems to work about as well as psychopharmaceuticals, in fact–more reliably, according to some studies, in preventing the depression from returning.
So, what does this mean, practically? The truth is, we both should get up and take a walk–aiming for at least 15 minutes, if possible, a few times a day. Thirty minutes of walking, four days a week is correlated with decreased distress, and decreased relapse. Some people try for 10,000 steps a day, which is a bit more walking (or if you can handle it, running), but is related to weight loss and cardiovascular health–although other studies suggest these effects are seen with 4K or 7K steps per day.
This matches what I, personally, have experienced–talking a walk, as long as possible, is nice, but strength-training makes me feel a nice sort of power. Both, really, are ideal, as many times as I can squeeze into a week. Even a quick 10 bodyweight squats are better than nothing, and wake me up faster than more caffeine.
Alright, I’m back–I walked to the dead end and back, and did 10 bodyweight squats. Both free, I feel it’s important to point out.
But if you have some cash to invest in fitness, may I recommend the local YMCA?
JOIN THE YMCA
The way I justify it to myself, the local YMCA is a positive force on the community. Even when I don’t use the gym, it’s a charitable donation for good. When I do use the gym, it’s all the better: community, free weights and targeting-specific-muscles machines, even a hot tub, if I time it right. Exercise groups can be social as well as opportunities to pump up your heart rate–both known to improve depressive symptoms!
My parents love the YMCA, and attend Water Aerobics multiple times per week–and even attend social events with their aquarobics peers. I’ve attended Water Aerobics while home in Austin, and it’s much tougher than it sounds–but you keep trying, in part because of the peppy music, but in part because the old lady near you seems to be having such an easy time of things. Water Aerobics is definitely a veritable antidepressant, and should be used as excessively as possible.
But not all of us have chronic illness, much less a mood disorder, and cherish the idea of an exercise group. So, may I present, the NerdFitness Beginner’s Guide to the Gym Guide.
In fact, spend a week reading NerdFitness articles, and go for a few more walks than usual, and you’re off to a great start. I read somewhere that the secret to happiness is progress, so whatever you do, do it more the next time. Do more squats, or rest and repeat. Do a push-up! Walk to a local point (the intersection, the dead end, the end of the parking lot, the end of the hallway) and then do it more often next week.
The point is, start doing some sort of exercise, and then step it up. Make progress, gain confidence, try harder, do better.