Everyone has ups and downs in life. However, there is a difference between your typical ‘feeling glum’ days, and what would be considered medical depression.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression, you’re not alone. Depression affects more than 120 million people worldwide, making it the leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization.

Some of the symptoms of clinical depression are:

  • changes in appetite and weight
  • sleep problems
  • loss of interest in work, hobbies, people or sex
  • withdrawal from family members and friends
  • feeling useless, hopeless, excessively guilty, pessimistic or having low self-esteem
  • agitation or feeling slowed down
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • trouble concentrating, remembering and making decision
  • crying easily, or feeling like crying but being not able to

People may experience some of the symptoms above – for example, fatigue, irritability, trouble concentrating, etc. – and attribute it to depression. However, they may not in fact have clinical depression. Clinical depression can only be diagnosed by a medical doctor. For more information on depression, visit here.

Many of these symptoms could actually be a result of a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition. A sedentary lifestyle as it relates to mental health and depression will be the focus of this article, but keep in mind that nutrition also plays a key role.

Sedentary Lifestyle and Depressive Symptoms

A sedentary lifestyle is defined as a type of lifestyle where an individual does not get enough physical activity. Most health bodies recommend that an individual should participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of a more vigorous regimen, per week. Many health professionals are also in agreement that walking 10,000 steps a day (approximately 5 miles) is the ideal goal to set for improving health and reducing the health risks caused by inactivity.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 to 85% of the population worldwide does get enough activity, making physical inactivity the fourth leading risk factor for death globally.

Not only can a lack of physical activity contribute to increased risk for chronic disease and poor overall health, it also may contribute to anxiety and depression.

According to studies, including a recent meta-analysis of nine published studies in BMC Public Health¸ people who do high amounts of sedentary behaviours such as sitting for long periods of time, lack of physical activity, watching TV and playing video games, are more likely to experience psychological distress, including anxiety, fatigue, nervousness or restlessness.

When you have depression or anxiety, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference.

How does Exercise help Depression and Anxiety?

Multiple systematic clinical trials of antidepressant medications have shown that they are significantly more effective than placebo in relieving symptoms in people with major depression.

Regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by:

  • Releasing endorphins (chemicals) in the body which are the body’s own antidepressant and contribute to feelings of happiness and wellness;
  • Increasing compounds (called growth factors) that contribute to improved brain function and mood by improving nerve cell connections;
  • Increasing ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’, a chemical that promotes brain health and memory, is reduced in depression, and exercise has been found to elevate levels of this neurotransmitter;
  • Improving sleep quality and duration. Even as little as 10 minutes per day of aerobic exercise can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep, especially when done on a regular basis;
  • Taking your mind off worries by allowing you to focus on something else, and spend some time to yourself.

Of course resistance training, playing sports and other aerobic fitness activities that get your heart pumping can help. But so can physical activity such as gardening, washing your car, or going for a walk.

You don’t have to do all your exercise or other physical activity at once. Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to add small amounts of physical activity throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther away from work to fit in a short walk. Or, if you live close to your job, consider biking to work

Living a healthy and active lifestyle can help to alleviate medical depression, improve these other depressive symptoms, and improve mental health so that you’re better able to weather the storms of life. However it’s important to note, only a doctor can diagnose depression, and although physical activity and a healthy diet can help alleviate symptoms, they do not take the place of medication or medical advice.

About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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