While typical treatments for a depressive disorder are psychotherapy or the use of an antidepressant such as sertraline, exercise has been found to help depressive symptoms.
In addition to releasing endocannabinoids and GABA, exercise also increases certain mood-enhancing neurotransmitters believed to be associated with depression, like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine .
Dopamine is the brain chemical that’s involved with movement, motivation, mood, memory and more.
The “feel good” hormone serotonin can make you feel calmer, happier and more emotionally stable when this chemical is at normal levels.
Meanwhile, norepinephrine — also known as noradrenaline — is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone triggered by stress and increases alertness and attention, helping your body’s “fight-or-flight” response.
A review of 23 clinical trials found that exercise was an effective treatment for symptoms of depression and could be even more effective in combination with antidepressant use.
A 2018 review also found that 45 minutes of aerobic exercise (cardio such as walking, running or swimming) was an effective antidepressant treatment for a group of 455 patients.
Even running for 15 minutes a day was found to reduce the risk of major depression by 26 percent.
While aerobic exercise was found to be helpful for depression symptoms, any exercise, from yoga to weightlifting can be beneficial.
While not a typical first line of treatment for depression or other mood disorders, regular exercise can positively impact several different aspects of mental health.
However, if you’re struggling with mood disorders or feel you could benefit from additional treatments, our online mental health resources can help you find the right treatment.
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