I freely admit that I fight against Depression.
When I’m depressed, all of my motivation evaporates, nothing seems appealing, and everything seems overwhelming and tiring. Getting out of bed takes a major act of will. I feel like I deserve an award just for showering and brushing my teeth in the morning. I feel like doing nothing except sleeping all day.
The last thing I feel like doing is going out for a run. And yet, according to a new study, that’s exactly what I should do. Because running fights depression.
According to a study out of the University of Toronto (yay! my alma mater), regular physical exercise can reduce future episodes of depression. So if, like me, you know that you are prone to depression, engaging in regular physical exercise makes a big difference in reducing the risk of developing depression. The study, which stretched over a 29 year period, found that even moderate exercise, like walking or gardening, can ward off depression.
Obviously this does not mean that exercise is some kind of magic bullet: you can exercise a lot and still experience depression. And telling a depressed person to “just go out and exercise” probably won’t help all that much. (Instead they will probably just hate you.)
For me, however, it’s encouraging to think that my quest to be “Fit by Forty” will have a positive impact on, not only my physical fitness, but my mental health as well. In my experience, it makes sense: when I go out for a run, even though it’s hard and it hurts, afterwards I feel better about myself. In the past I’ve found exercising outside to be especially helpful for my mental health. Something about getting dressed in my workout clothes, getting “out the door”, smelling the fresh air, and feeling the warm sunshine lifts my spirits, especially considering that my daily routine often consists of spending hours huddled in the basement by the flickering glow of my computer monitors.
Although “getting out” and doing anything can be helpful for depression, exercise is especially helpful for physiological reasons. As anyone who’s studied biology can tell you, exercise causes your body to release endorphins. These endorphins interact with receptors in your brain to inhibit your perception of pain and actually trigger positive feelings (similar to morphine). Following a good workout, runners may experience a sense of endorphin-induced euphoria, commonly known as “Runner’s High”. Other studies have found that these exercise related endorphins can be an effective tool in combating mild to moderate depression.
Now, there is a certain pathetic irony to be found in the fact that the thing to treat depression is something that requires motivation. But I guess that’s why it’s smart to start a running habit before you get depressed.
Checking in on running status update: Today was my 6th run and I ran my longest run so far (4.4km). I know it’s not a lot, but it’s nice to know I’m progressing slowly. I ran outside and the sun was up, which was nice (the last few times I ran outside it was night). I’m planning to choose a race to train for so I’ll have a goal. Not sure what I should do yet, though. Maybe a 10k?