Regular exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits for physical and mental health. In particular, it has been found to alleviate symptoms of depression and improve overall well-being. This is especially significant considering that depression affects millions of people worldwide and is associated with various health risks. While antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are commonly used to treat depression, they are not always conclusive and may have side effects. As a result, there is a need for alternative approaches to manage depression effectively.
Exercise as an Alternative Approach
Recent studies have suggested that exercise can be an effective alternative approach for managing depression. Unlike medications, exercise has no side effects, making it a safer option. Additionally, it is more affordable compared to psychotherapy, which can be costly and difficult to access for some individuals. Regular exercise not only helps in preventing major chronic diseases but also significantly reduces the risk of premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases – a leading cause of death among individuals affected by depression.
Strength Training: An Accessible Form of Exercise
In addition to aerobic exercise, strength training has been proven to have positive effects on individuals with depression. Strength exercises not only improve strength and endurance but also contribute to overall health improvement. Organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Health Organization recommend at least two strength training sessions per week along with a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity.
Alleviating Symptoms of Depression
A meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry examined the effects of strength training exercises on depression symptoms in 33 clinical trials involving 1877 individuals. The findings revealed that regular engagement in strength training exercises (2-3 times per week) significantly reduced depressive symptoms such as low mood, lack of interest, and feelings of worthlessness. Notably, this improvement was particularly significant for individuals with mild to moderate depressive symptoms who are known to have a lesser response to antidepressant medications.
Interestingly, the reduction in depression symptoms was not strongly related to the duration and intensity of the exercises or the improvement in physical fitness resulting from physical activity. This suggests that the act of engaging in strength training exercises alone, regardless of its physical effects, can have positive effects on mood.
Combining Exercise with a Mediterranean Diet
Aside from exercise, studies have also shown that dietary habits can influence depression symptoms. Adopting an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-type diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and grains, has been associated with a 33% reduction in the risk of depression. On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods and sugary beverages has been linked to an increased risk of depression.
By combining regular exercise with a Mediterranean diet, individuals may experience even greater benefits in terms of alleviating depressive symptoms and improving overall mental well-being. These lifestyle changes offer a holistic and natural approach to managing depression, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals who do not respond well to traditional treatments.
In conclusion, exercise, particularly strength training, and a Mediterranean diet have been proven to have significant positive effects on individuals with depression. Unlike medications and psychotherapy, exercise is accessible, affordable, and free from side effects. By incorporating these lifestyle changes, individuals can proactively manage their depression and improve their overall health and well-being.