Depression has grown to become a major global problem that is declared by the World Health Organization as the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the United States, CDC figures share that 1 in 9 people of all ages are taking antidepressants, while in the UK the NHS reported a 108.5% increase of antidepressants dispensed in 2016, compared to 2006. All over the world millions of people are relying on antidepressants for both short- and long-term use.
This should not be just another drug stat that we glaze over. It is nothing short of a tragedy that at a time on Earth when more people have a higher quality of life than ever before with not just basic needs covered but luxuries and opportunities of all kinds like no other generation knew before, we also have the most mental and emotional health problems. What is happening to our health, happiness, and life satisfaction?
Unfortunately many people who are faced with such mental and emotional health challenges and stresses will think nothing of going the pharmaceutical route. Yet with just a little research one can learn that antidepressants have some of the worst side effects on our overall health. Not only are they not highly effective at dealing with depression, but they can actually make it worse to the point of increasing suicidal and violent tendencies. Dr. Kelly Brogan is one of the top mental health experts today who was a common psychiatrist who used to prescribe antidepressants, and is today one of the most outspoken experts against their use. To understand why, read her excellent article: What’s the Harm in Taking an Antidepressant?
So what is one to do? The good news is that today there are numerous much less risky and much more effective ways to deal with depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and similar mental and emotional challenges. Everything from psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to yoga and meditation can be used to prevent and treat these conditions in the most effective and natural of ways. However, something that many people do not think of and are often not aware of is how effective movement and physical activity is at reducing the risk of depression and improving any of its symptoms. In fact, exercise is considered the perfect natural antidepressant. Walking, especially, has been found to be highly effective at treating depression, even more so than psychotherapy. Research shows that on average 20 to 30 minutes of walking or mild physical activity can help prevent and treat depression, but even as little as 10 minutes a day is highly helpful and beneficial.
To help you get motivated to move and benefit not only your physical body, weight, and energy, but also your mental and emotional health and overall state of being, here are some fun ways to keep active:
1. Bike Your Way to Good Health
Bike whenever and wherever you can. This can be to and from work, if your distance and climate allows for it, or it can be to run some errands, or for fun and relaxation anytime you can fit it in. The aerobic benefit will keep your metabolism running high and burning calories for some time after you’ve parked yourself and the releasing feel-good endorphins. An evening ride after dinner is a good way to help you digest your food and clear your mind to ensure a better quality of sleep and wellbeing.
2. Park A Few Blocks From Your Destinations
If your commute to work is too long or biking is simply not an option, another alternative to get yourself moving more would be to park the car a few blocks from your work, school, or other destination and walk the rest of the way. You’ll get your heart rate up safely and walking is a low impact aerobic exercise that has numerous health and weight benefits that go far beyond mental and emotional health alone.
3. Turn Your Workplace Into A Workout
If you are one of the few people left who have a physically demanding job, then you are already incorporating lots of movement into your day. However, most of us today have standing or sitting jobs and workplaces that do not allow for much, if any movement. This takes a toll on all areas of our health. To help yourself, take the stairs as much as you can, instead of the elevator. If you have brought a healthy lunch, don’t eat it at your desk. Instead, take a walk to a local park or sitting area, or even just to a nearby food court to have it. Finally, when at your desk leave reminders for yourself, like sticky notes with reminders or motivational messages or set timers to remind you to move. This can be doing a 5-minute stretch break, or rotating your feet while you work, or even just taking a 1-minute walk around the office when you can.
4. Get a Dog to Walk to Feel Better
Aside from being cute and cuddly in their own unique ways, animals have been shown on numerous occasions to decrease feelings associated with stress, anxiety, and depression, and increase our overall happiness and wellbeing. Out of all the animals, of course dogs come to mind first as the most helpful and valuable, as they require daily walks, which in turn will cause you to take daily walks. Walking a dog can be the most fun way to keep active easily and feel better. If you don’t have a dog or cannot get your own dog, consider volunteering to walk a neighbor’s dog, or becoming a dog-walker in your spare time, or volunteering to walk dogs at an animal rescue shelter.
5. Dance Your Way Into Happiness
Moving your body in all directions based on natural flow and rhythm is another way to be active and increase feelings of joy and wellbeing. Whether it is for a few minutes in the morning to start your day or in the evening to end your day, put on some of your favorite tunes and allow your body to sway. You don’t have to know how to dance in any particular way, you just have to set the stage and allow your body to take over. So instead of stretching out on the sofa after a long workday, release your stresses and frustrations by doing some dancing.
6. Play Sports
Whatever sport or activity you enjoy, this is a great way to not only stay active but also to connect with other people in meaningful and enjoyable ways, which all helps to prevent and treat depression. Whether at a park, in a pool, or on a court, commit to engaging in your favorite sport(s) on a regular basis. With choices like basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, hockey, football, tennis, golf, skiing, skating, swimming, water polo, or pingpong, there is something for every age, stage of life, and physical ability. So get outside and play! Join a team, find a racket partner, hit the slopes, throw that ball. There are sports for all seasons and all shapes and sizes of participants, and the name of the game is fun! You will be helping yourself across the board physically, mentally, and emotionally to feel your best.
Being active is the simplest suggestion but often the hardest to act on. Staying active via any kind of exercise releases endorphins, which improve our mood and how we feel about life in general. Now we also have an abundance of research backing up the many valuable benefits of physical activity to prevent and treat depression, which should only make it that much more of a priority to do. You will relieve stress, improve your physical, mental, and emotional health, improve your life, and have fun doing it. To your best health!