Turning Over a New Leaf: Getting Active
- Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Autumn in New York is a special time indeed.
The city transitions quickly from humid summer days to crisp fall evenings, and I would argue that you can best enjoy what the city has to offer while out on a long walk in Central Park with hot cider in your hands and sporting a down-filled puffy vest.
New York City, famous for its love of all things extreme, is also host to the annual New York City Marathon on November 2nd, 2008, one of the world’s greatest road races. As a past participant, I can attest that crossing the finish line in Central Park was one of the great thrills of my lifetime, before two million screaming New Yorkers!
While this may serve as an extreme example of the love of running, many a Manhattanite and Naturally Savvy reader alike engage in daily running and other forms of exercise for health and play.
Exercise is also a wonderful way to enhance and augment treatment for depression and anxiety. While exercise itself is not a cure, it has many psychological and physical benefits that can help treat symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How does this work exactly? In short, we don’t know. However, some evidence suggests that exercise raises the levels of naturally occurring substances in your body that are important for regulating mood (neurotransmitters) and helping you sleep well and decreasing muscle tension (endogenous opioids aka ‘endorphins’).
These increases in endorphins and other neurotransmitters can also lead to a decrease in the level of circulating cortisol in your body, a hormone that is a key player in the stress response cycle. There is even one scientific paper that proposes that running exerts its antidepressant effect in people by promoting the growth and formation of healthy brain cells through a complicated mechanism.
While there is some scientific evidence discussing why running and other forms of exercise are helpful to treating symptoms of depression and anxiety, it is likewise a wonderful activity to engage in to help build self-esteem, confidence about one’s physical appearance, and contribute to a sense of achievement. As with many other activities, setting realistic goals about what you can achieve in a given time period maximizes your opportunity for success and accomplishment.
So go easy on yourself! As with many other things in life, moderation is key, and while I can’t deny that yours truly engaged in 26.2 miles of intense physical exercise last November, in general, you can achieve most of the benefits for mood and anxiety outlined above by engaging in at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, at least 3-5 days a week. If that is impossible, try and carve out 10 to 15 minutes for yourself each day and fit in a little burst of activity – I think you’ll be surprised by how helpful that can be in terms of a quick fix for mood!
- Martinsen EW. Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression. Nord J Psychiatry. 2008;62 Suppl 47:25-9.
- Greenwood BN et al. Exercise, learned helplessness, and the stress-resistant brain. Neuromolecular Med. 2008;10(2):81-98.
- Bjornebekk A et al. The antidepressant effect of running is associated with increased hippocampal cell proliferation. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2005 Sep;8(3):357-68.