A brisk walk a day may keep depression at bay. Exercise benefits go well beyond the physical.
Can regular exercise really make me feel better emotionally?
At this point, we all are aware of the importance of even moderate exercise in our weekly routines. In addition to the physical health benefits of regular exercise, such as weight control and heart benefits, the mental health benefits are remarkable. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis covering 15 studies involving 191,130 participants (Pearce et al., 2022) revealed some incredible statistics:
Percentage lowered risk of depression among adults who got just half the recommended amount of physical activity per week—the equivalent of about 75 minutes of brisk walking—compared with adults who reported no physical activity.
Percentage lowered risk of depression among adults who got the recommended amount of physical activity per week—about 2.5 hours of brisk walking. Getting more exercise than that does not seem to confer extra mood benefits.
1 in 9
Cases of depression that could potentially be prevented if all adults did just 150 minutes of physical activity per week, the minimal amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Okay, that’s great… now how do I get started?
Some readers love exercising and find it easy to get motivated to move. But if you’re like me, it may feel harder to get started and excuses can get in the way. Here’s are five tips to help you get going:
- Start with SMART goals: SMART goals are Specific – Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Start small and realistic. You don’t need to begin with a two hour a day routine. How about committing to 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week for the next month? Is that achievable? If we start by setting impossible goals, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and failure.
- Don’t seek perfection. Some days you may not reach your goal, and that’s okay. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress. Mindfulness exercises can help you identify perfectionist thinking.
- Use the 10-minute rule of motivation to overcome resistance. Make a pact with yourself that you will go for a 10-minute walk – any movement is better than none. I’ve done this quite a few times, and guess what? Most of the time after 10 minutes I already feel better and want to continue longer. I bet you will too!
- Find activities that you love. In the Summer I love to swim laps in the pool or at the beach and in the cooler months I like to walk and hike. These are achievable for me and easy to fit into my busy schedule. Don’t do an activity just because it’s a trend. If you do what’s enjoyable, you’re more likely to continue.
- Give yourself healthy enticements or rewards. When I was starting a new plan to get healthier earlier this year, my GP recommended this trick, and it works. Find a great podcast that you love. I’m obsessed with true crime, but there are so many that are funny and educational. Only allow yourself to listen to the podcast when you are walking, hiking or at the gym. Once you get hooked you aren’t going to want to miss a day. If you aren’t a podcast person, find another healthy reward.
What if exercise isn’t enough?
Exercise shouldn’t replace mental health support if you are experiencing depression, but it can certainly enhance and lend to treatment. If you are experiencing depressive symptoms that are affecting your quality of life or suicidal thoughts, please seek professional mental health support.
At Momentum Counselling, we take a holistic approach to working through mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. We use evidence-based counselling techniques and look at our clients’ overall lifestyle habits including exercise, sleep hygiene and nutrition to best support positive movement to a richer and more meaningful life. Please contact us if you need any support.
If you are need emergency support, please contact a 24-hour crisis hotline.
Hong Kong Suicide Hotlines:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: dial 988
The Samaritans: +852 2896-0000
Suicide Prevention Services: +852 2382 0000
Source: Pearce, M., et al. (2022). Association between physical activity and risk of depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 79(6), 550–559.