Exercise for Depression & Anxiety

Move Your Mood

Activity can help in the management of mental issues such as anxiety and depression.Signs-of-Depression-174x300.jpg

Mental health issues such as chronic stressdepression and anxiety are prevalent within our society. Almost one in two Australians experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. – According to the Australian Psychological Society Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2015.

Increasingly, evidence is indicating that physical activity can be a powerful tool for managing mental health conditions. Even walking for less that 150 minutes per week, can be of benefit.

Evidence for the role of exercise in depression is compelling. Indicating exercise can reduce the likelihood of developing the condition, as well as alleviating symptoms, and for some sufferers, can be of equivalent benefit to anti-depressant medications. It is also recognised that exercise can be a very good add-on therapy.

While there is less extensive research on exercise for anxietycompared to depression, a 2015 review concluded that, “As a treatment for elevated anxiety or anxiety disorders, exercise offers benefits comparable to established treatments, including medication or Cognative Behavioual Therapy.”

Explaining the Effects


Most of us have the general understanding that exercise boosts mood, but there are numerous factors that explain why it helps in the management of mental health conditions. “Exercise increases neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, but one of its primary actions is that it increases Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is the

target that all new antidepressants are looking to increase”, says John Rate

y, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard MedicalSchool and author of SPARK: The revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. According to Ratey, BDNF can be thought of as fertiliser for the brain. “It helps our brain cells grow, resist stress and function at their highest peak, and is important for managing mood, as well as our ability to learn, think and remember”, Ratey explains.

Richard Maddock, Professor at the University of California, Davis Department of Psychiatry & Behavioural Sciences, explains exercise also increase levels of glutamine and GABBA, neurotransmitters which promote flexible brain function and the ability to regulate mood. “We did a study which found that a single bout of vigorous aerobic exercise was followed by an increase in the concentration of these two neurotransmitters,” he says.

Exercise also has psychological benefits that help people better cope with depression or anxiety. “As well as the biological aspects, things like social interaction, self-esteem, self-worth and improving someone’s ability to learn a new skill and their self-confidence can have a huge effect,” notes Dr Simon Rosenbaum, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Research Fellow in the school of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales.



Barriers to Exercise

It may seem like the positive impacts of exercise are enough to motivate anyone, however it’s not always that simple for individuals with depression or anxiety.

“There can be barriers associated with mood, inherent lack of motivation and fatigue associated with medications”.

In the case of anxiety, barriers to exercise depend on the specific anxiety disorder the client suffers from. “If a person has social anxiety, they may be resistant to exercise because of fears about how deconditioned they are or what people will think of them, whereas for a person with panic attacks, their fears are typically about their body going haywire on them,” says Maddock.

While exercise is a powerful mental health tonic, it is best viewed as a component of care, rather than a standalone therapy and should be discussed with a GP or Mental Health professional prior to commencing an exercise program.

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