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Exercise and Depression

It may come once, twice or many times in a person's life, it can even last a lifetime.

A condition that can be masked and a topic often avoided: The invisible illness.

1 in 4 Canadians are affected and approximately 280 million people have been diagnosed with depression worldwide. For some individuals, time heals, moods and outlooks improve. Some may not have access to treatment and may never be cured.

What is depression?

Sadness and grief are normal reactions to stress and trauma in our life.

True depression is nothing like the blues, unhappiness or even grief. It is an overwhelming feeling of emptiness and self doubt, a dark suffering of unbearable pain.

Making the smallest decision can be agonizing and almost everything feels meaningless. Negative thoughts, actions and behaviors will influence mood and may have serious impacts in a person’s life.

Many factors can contribute to depression such as;

Family history- If a close family member experienced depression you may be at risk as your genetic make-up largely determines your physiology.

Past or recent traumatic events - abuse, divorce, illness, job loss and death, to name only a few devastating events people can be experience.

Depression is a treatable illness. Those who enter treatment have an excellent chance of recovery. Research has shown that most people who receive treatment for depression respond well.

Exercise provides several benefits:

  • Reduces anxiety and depression

  • Higher self-esteem

  • Sharper memory

  • Boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels- all of which affect focus and attention.

  • Better sleep

  • More energy

  • Improves cognitive function

  • Increased neurotransmitter activity

  • Release of stored energy, which can alleviate anxiety

  • Serves as a distraction or coping mechanism

  • Creates opportunities for social interaction

So how can you heal your life with exercise? Here are some guidelines to help you improve your mental and emotional health through exercise:

  1. Start small; a 5 minute walk in nature will allow for absorption of Vitamin D which is an important factor for managing depressive symptoms. Exercise can lower tension and anger, enhance mood and mental health.

  2. Find a community; exercising with family and friends helps us connect, it creates opportunities for social support.

  3. Set functional goals; exercise does not have to be strenuous in order to benefit mental health. Research shows that moderate- intensity exercise is most beneficial in reducing symptoms of depression.

  4. Begin with simple exercises; walking, jogging, biking, swimming. Take time to warm up and cool down. Drink lots of water before, during and after exercise.

  5. Thank your body for the gift of movement; after you finish a bout of physical activity, take a few moments to reflect and appreciate your body's ability to move.

The guidelines are based on current scientific evidence supporting the connections between depression and physical activity, overall health and well-being, disease prevention and quality of life.

It is important to take depression symptoms seriously and to consider professional help – especially if the mood does not improve even after a long time or if there is no apparent reason for the deep sadness. If you or anyone you know are experiencing a crisis please do not hesitate to contact the Distress Centre here in Calgary. They offer 24/7 support via chat, phone or text

Phone or Text – 403.266.HELP (4357)


Hearing Impaired – 403.543.1967

Sarah Schnex – Personal Trainer, The ACADEMY/Heavens Fitness Ltd.


-The Primary Care Companion to the journal of Clinical Psychiatry

-American Council on Exercise


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