When you are feeling down, you may have been told to exercise – but does this actually help?
While working out, stress levels tend to decrease while energy levels increase, and the body begins to release endorphins, aiding in the battle against depression.
One of the reasons why physical activity helps with depression is because the individual feels like they have control over what they’re doing. It can leave the individual feeling proactive.
A study done in 1999, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine took 156 participants, both men and women, with depression. The participants were split into three groups, the first group took part in exercise, the second was given Zoloft, a treatment for depression, and the third group was given both. Over the 16-week time period, between 60%-70% of participants from all three groups were no longer classified as having major depression.
Jessie Gormley, a fitness manager at GoodLife Fitness, says she has worked with clients that are looking to either lower their dosage in medication or get off the medication all together.
One of her client’s depression stemmed from self-image issues and they were put on anti-depressant medications. Although the medication intended to help with the depression, her client ended up putting more weight on which leaves the issue going in the wrong direction.
“If the goal is fat loss, usually anti-depression medication makes you put weight on,” says Gormley. “If that depression is at all linked with self-image and body-image, it ends up being extremely detrimental and moving in the wrong direction.”
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), says “major depression can occur in 10 to 25 per cent of women—almost twice as many as men.” Although, “men with depression typically have a higher rate of feeling irritable, angry and discouraged,” says CAMH.
Marium Khalid is a 19-year-old student who moved to Canada a few years back. Before coming to Canada, Khalid struggled with depression and that followed her over.
Back home, she felt she did not have as much freedom as her friends and she wished she could experience the adventures they did. Upon moving to Canada, she began to receive that freedom from her parents. She began going out and visiting restaurants and says she started to put weight on.
“Food became my support, I was no longer excited but I got dependent on it,” says Khalid.
Khalid was a member of a gym before, but after a short period of time she cancelled her membership. After much convincing, her father signed her up again last year.
Khalid says in the beginning she did not like going to her boot camp sessions but at the end she loved it.
“While I would work out and at the end, I loved it,” says Khalid. “I felt so good, I felt something positive going on. I felt I was doing something, at least, productive, so that helped me a lot with depression.”
Gormley says that individuals who are physically active end up being positively affected.
“It almost ends up being a form of therapy that a lot of people will use when they’re going through something like that,” says Gormley. “You can just go into the gym and have something that’s kind of your own, where you don’t have to worry about anything else that’s going on and kind of get away from issues.”
Gormley’s client that came to her on anti-depressants is now fully off the medication.
“She went from being 50 pounds over weight, on a ton of depression medication, the highest dose she’d ever been on, not sleeping, no friends, and she stopped going to school,” says Gormley.
“She lost 30 pounds with me, and I know she continued to lose the rest of the weight on her own…completely going off her medication, she ended up getting into a completely great relationship, she ended up getting a job.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.”
ADAA says that just like therapy, exercise will not help all individuals who suffer from depression.
“Although exercise has a positive effect for most people, some recent studies show that for some, exercise may not have a positive effect on anxiety or depression or may not make a strong impact on long-term mental health,” says ADAA.
While coming to the gym on a regular basis, Khalid began to see many of these positive side affects in her mind and body.
“It helped me a lot with depression…it made me feel so good,” says Khalid. “There was a hope going on, I could see something better going on. So, definitely, exercise has helped me a lot.”
Khalid is now finishing up studies and is left with minimal time to come to the gym. She is waiting to finish up all of her courses to get started back up again.
Being physically active has to be embedded into your routine says Gormley. The changes will not happen over night, but if you put the time to come to the gym into your schedule for about six weeks, it will become a routine.
“The changes that they want aren’t going to happen overnight,” says Gormley. “If they have a weight loss goal, and you’re on medication, it’s going to be harder, but it’s not impossible.”
Due to the privacy of Marium Khalid, she was given a pseudonym for the purpose of this story.