The Most Effective Way To Combat Stress, Anxiety and Depression

DEPRESSION canstockphoto24176407Most people know that exercise can improve physical health in many ways, from maintaining a healthy body weight and lean muscle mass to preventing obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure. But did you know that exercise is also one of the safest and most effective ways to combat stress, anxiety and depression?

It’s not surprising that diagnoses of mood disorders are skyrocketing. With the increasing pressures presented by social media, a lagging economy, global security concerns and climate change, there’s plenty to fuel anxiety and depression. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about 20% of Canadians will personally experience some sort of mental illness at some point in our lives. The good news for the many who suffer from mood disorders is that regular, moderate exercise has been scientifically proven to be a more effective and longer-lasting therapy than medications.

DEPRESSION MEDITATION canstockphoto28045219There are several reasons exercise makes us feel better. One of them is the deep breathing techniques used in mind-body types of exercise like yoga. When we are in a heightened state of anxiety, our bodies’ fight or flight response kicks in, causing us to breathe in short, shallow breaths (also called hyperventilation). The quicker and more restricted the breath gets, the more distressed we become. Exercises that encourage deeper, slower and more mindful breathing┬ácan halt the panic cycle and create a sense of calm and wellbeing. To learn these techniques, seek out Yoga styles that focus on connecting movements to your breathing cycle, like Vinyasa or Flow classes.

Yoga gets plenty of credit for improving our mood, but Pilates is also acknowledged for its ability to help us focus. Like some martial arts, Pilates is a precise and very technical form of exercise that requires all of your attention to perform correctly. Pilates practitioners often report feeling clear-headed and calm after class, likely because they’ve been so focused they’ve temporarily forgotten all about their problems!

 

Exercise seems to work on our brains in a similar way to some medications. It increases our production of norepinephrine, a hormone that helps us to moderate stress. Cardiovascular exercise in particular can boost creativity, reduce insomnia, and even assist in recovery from addictions.

 

DEPRESSION WALK canstockphoto3064826This doesn’t mean medication or other therapies are unnecessary, but rather that a regular exercise program should be an important part of our physical and mental health strategies.

 

If a mood disorder or mental health condition is making the very thought of exercising seem impossible, you’re not alone. But there are ways to help combat listlessness and disinterest too. Calling a friend to go for a long walk, preferably in nature, can double as talk therapy. Joining a community program to improve mental health, such as the YMCA’s Jumpstep can make you feel less isolated.

 

Or simply do it for someone who loves and cares about you. They’ll be cheering you on all the way!
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