Dr. Ilardi, a researcher and professor at the University of Kansas and the author of the book, The Depression Cure, reports the findings of Dr. Jim Blumenthal's study involving 156 depressed middle aged patients. They were randomly assigned to a treatment of Zoloft or exercise. The exercise consisted of 30 minutes of brisk walking 3 times a week.
The study indicated, "The two treatments worked equally well for the first few months, but by ten months into the study, the exercisers were much more likely than those taking Zoloft to remain depression-free" (p. 117).
Dr. Ilardi states in his book exercise works as an antidepressant works, it increases the activity of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Dr. Ilardi goes on to state, "It also stimulates the brain's release of a key growth hormone (BDNF), which in turn helps reverse the toxic, brain-damaging effects of depression. It even sharpens memory and concentration, and helps us think more clearly. Simply put, exercise is medicine - one that affects the brain more powerfully than any drug" (p. 117).
Dr. Ilardi primarily discusses the effects of exercise on depression; however, exercise works equally as well in treating anxiety. As stated previously, exercise increases serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Exercise also burns away stress chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine. By reducing these chemicals, exercise provides a meditative effect, thus calming the mind and body.
A residual effect of exercise is an increase in self confidence and self esteem. A person feels physically stronger when they workout and psychologically stronger - and if your clothes fit better, all the more reason to get off the couch.
Keep in mind, we are not talking about spending hours upon hours at the gym to achieve said results. Most research supports a mere 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week. This is manageable. How much time do you spend in front of the computer on Facebook or playing computer games? It is more than doable to carve out 90 – 120 minutes a week for physical activity.
Speaking of physical activity, some people have an aversion to “exercise.” Replace the word “exercise” with “physical activity.” Do something you enjoy. It could be swimming, dancing, jogging, yoga, krav maga, weight lifting, hockey, soccer – the options are limitless. Find something you enjoy and have fun.
Make your overall health, emotional and physical, a priority and schedule 3-4 sessions of physical activity a week. Your body will thank you and your mind will reward you.