People who engage in regular exercise, including walking, show improvement in their depression, comparable to people treated with antidepressant medication, demonstrating that exercise and depression recovery are linked. Exercise has none of the harmful and potentially deadly side effects of antidepressants. Exercise and stress reduction not only relieves depression symptoms, it may prevent them from recurring. The stimulation of exercise produces beneficial neurotransmitters in the brain, which reduces stress and improves the ability to respond to challenging situations, according to research from:

  • Duke University
  • University of California
  • University of Colorado
  • Boston University School of Medicine

Regular exercise has been shown to:

  • reduce stress symptoms
  • ward off anxiety
  • boost energy and self-esteem
  • reduce sleeping problems

It strengthens your heart and lowers blood pressure, reducing your risk for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. It also builds muscle and helps to strengthen bones, and helps you reduce body fat.

Exercise clearly demonstrates benefits above and beyond what antidepressant drugs can achieve, without any negative side effects. One study conducted by scientists at Duke University in the late 1990s divided depressed patients into three treatment groups, one only doing exercise, one taking an antidepressant, and one exercising and taking the antidepressant. After six weeks, the drug-only group was doing slightly better than the other two groups. Further studies showed that in a 10 month follow-up, the exercise-only group had the highest remission and stay-well rate.

Physical activity alters your brain chemistry in several beneficial ways. Scientists at the University of Georgia have found that exercise regulates your brain's levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that:

  • influence our mood
  • improve sexual desire and function
  • improve appetite
  • improve sleep
  • improve memory and learning ability
  • regulate body temperature
  • improve social behavior

It increases your levels of galanin, a neurotransmitter that helps lower your body's stress response. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health say that exercise is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, and drug withdrawal symptoms.

When you exercise, your body also produces neurotransmitters known as endorphins, which reduce your perception of pain, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Endorphins trigger a euphoric feeling in the body, which is commonly referred to as “runner's high”. Endorphins help to regulate your appetite and improve your immune response, and high endorphin levels lessen negative effects of stress and the experience of pain.

Exercise provides not only long-term benefits, but an immediate boost to your well-being. Short-term, physical activity reduces mental and muscular tension, and increases energy and concentration. It boosts your self-esteem and self-confidence. Once you experience the improved self-esteem and self-confidence of regular exercise, you look forward to your regular fitness regime.

Activities such as walking, gardening, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can provide the same benefits of more strenuous exercises. So easy does it. Walking for 45 minutes three times a week and taking 2 to 3 grams of fish oil daily can help you overcome your depression and build a healthy brain, according to renowned author, psychiatrist and brain expert Dr. Daniel Amen.

Here are some simple steps you can take to incorporate more exercise into your daily life.

Identify what you enjoy doing.
Decide what type of physical activities you're most likely to do. For instance, would you be more likely to do some gardening or take a walk in the evening, go for a bike ride or play basketball with your children after school? Do what you enjoy and schedule regular exercise, whatever it is.

Set smart goals.
Setting clear, concise, and realistic goals helps you to stay focused and makes you more likely to perform the task, according to a study from Dominican University. Walk for 15 minutes the first week, 30 minutes the second week, and so on. Set your goal so that you can realistically achieve it, based on your physical ability, your age, and your previous exercise habits. This will help you avoid failure and frustration.

Don't think of exercise as a chore.
If exercise is just another obligation in your life that you don't think you're living up to, you'll associate it with failure and stress. Look at your exercise schedule generating enormous benefits, which in the long run, will save you money and improve your quality of life.

Overcome your barriers.
Determine what's stopping you from exercising. If you feel self-conscious, for instance, you may want to exercise at home. If you work better with a partner, find a friend to walk with. Go to the park. Join the morning mall walkers, or a light exercise program at your local community center.

Expect setbacks and obstacles.
Reward yourself for for each successful exercise session. If you skip exercise one day, that doesn't mean you can't maintain an exercise routine and may as well quit. Just try again the next day.

Exercise, combined with a nutrient-rich diet, has the effect of improving your emotional state, raising your stress threshold, and revitalizing your brain. Go out and do something physical just a few times a week, and in only four weeks you will have a better body, a healthier brain, and a new, energetic outlook on life. As you can clearly see, exercise and depression recovery are linked. Routine exercise shows results comparable to antidepressants. Enjoy the new you!

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he administrates the website as part of the Global Peace Project Educational Outreach Program. You can also find him on The Total Health Blog.