A Path to Help Ease Depression and Anxiety

I decided to explore exercise and nutrition as it relates to mental illness. It turns out there is a correlation between exercise, nutrition and improved symptoms of depression. This also holds true for anxiety disorders. Researchers have also determined exercise is a tool for treating — and perhaps preventing — anxiety. A study published in 2005 found that walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week had a significant influence on mild to moderate depression symptoms. Anxiety disorders are common psychiatric conditions with a lifetime prevalence of nearly 29% in the United States.


Arya Ziai, 3/5/13

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome yet people with anxiety disorder experience it without a precipitating event. There are medications but some studies have found that adults who engage in regular physical activity experience fewer anxiety symptoms. This supports the notion that exercise offers a protective effect against the development of many mental disorders.

One of the most obvious, yet under-recognized factors in the development of major trends in mental health is the role of nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. The evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.

How Does Exercise Help

How does exercise relieve depression? For many years, experts have known that exercise enhances the action of endorphins, chemicals that circulate throughout the body. Endorphins improve natural immunity and reduce the perception of pain. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins which in turn improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. High stress levels have long been linked to depression.

During my research I read about a woman who was diagnosed with depression that was largely resistant to drugs and therapy until she discovered running. She then experienced a dramatic improvement in symptoms. She started running every day and within a few weeks her depression significantly improved.

My Personal Experience

Personally, I started an exercise program about a year and a half ago and notice that besides feeling physically better, my outlook has become much sunnier. I try to go to the gym at least three times a week either to take a class, strength train or hit the treadmill. Though sometimes I have to drag myself there, I am always glad that I made the effort. I also try to eat healthy foods that include nuts, fruit and vegetables. This, combined with exercise, has resulted in significant weight loss as well.

Some suggestions

So what types of exercise should you do to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression? Try walking, running, strength training, yoga, tai chi, gardening, even just washing the car. All of these will get your endorphins flowing.

Are you anxious?

Take this test to reveal your anxiety level: http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/treatment/exercising. The test revealed I had moderate anxiety. Some of the questions I answered “strongly agree” to were: “Do you worry about your health or dying?” “I think a lot about why I do the things I do” “I have trouble sleeping”.

Maybe I should try to step up the exercise and lay off the twinkies!