Exercise and depression

Exercise seems almost to be a buzzword at the moment. Wherever you turn, people are trying to convince you on the merits of getting active. Of course, for the most part it is true, but it can be tiresome to listen to. However, there are definite studies linking the positive effects of exercise and depression, so you may want to reconsider getting a bit healthier.

Anxiety and depression are, of course, very difficult medical issues to move through. One of the last things you feel like doing in a depressive state is exercising. However, if you do manage to motivate yourself off the couch, exercise can have some profound benefit.

Talking the physical side.

Of course, the physical benefits of exercise are well known. As soon as you get moving, no matter your previous state of health and no matter how simple the exercise you opt for, you will reap effects like the reduction of blood pressure, easing of arthritis symptoms and assistance with diabetes. Remember that depression is equally much a medical condition strongly tied to the body- it should come as no surprise that exercise can also have mood-improving and anxiety-relieving side effects.

How does exercise alleviate depression?

Unfortunately, the mechanism by which exercise has the effect on depression is not yet clear, but several studies have confirmed the link between the reduction of anxiety and elevation of mood. It can also ward off the return of depressive tendencies in recovering individuals. Exercise is a known way to release the endorphins, endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters collectively known as ‘feel good’ chemicals, all of which elevate the mood.

But that’s not all. It’s also been proven that exercise stimulates the immune system. In turn, this decreases the presence of certain co-factors for depression. It has also been suggested that ensuring a normal body temperature can have calming effects on anxiety. There’s a host of emotional benefits that can play into improved depression and anxiety levels, too. Exercise makes you more confident, assisting in meeting goals as well as how you feel about your appearance. It is also a great distraction from worries and cycles of negative thought. It promotes social interaction- even something as simple as a nod at the neighbour on your walk can have profound effects. It also can become a coping strategy for some.

I don’t want to join a gym!

Don’t panic yes. Exercise, in the sense of the studies done, more or less refers to all healthy physical activity. A walk around the neighbourhood can be enough to yield positive mental effects. Exercise, although referring to a series of structured body movements, also has a wider umbrella then many people think it does. It’s not only about running laps or heading to the gym! While running, weight training, structured games like squash, basketball and tennis and other formal fitness activities will certainly help you, anything that gets you moving can help to start yielding good results. Gardening, washing the car, and other less intense activities all count as physical movement that can boost your positive thoughts and help supress anxiety and depression.

Remember too that’s it’s not a matter of all or nothing. You don’t have to do a solid hour of weight training or it’s not worth it. Exercise can be cumulative through the day. Adding small, regular bursts of physical activity is the best way to bring exercise into your life. Look for opportunities in your day to day life to add in extra physical activity by taking the stairs, or parking further away. You can even, should you desire, look into more healthy commuting methods like biking if it would be feasible for your circumstances.

How long will it take to get results?

Exercise can have the feel-good chemical boost effect we mention above from the first session you undertake. However, many people feel pressured to go to big, especially if you are a novice to the exercise world, and this can have detrimental effects by leaving you stiff, sore and feeling defeated. It’s impossible to begin at a realistic fitness level for your current health, and gradually build up your physical activity level as your fitness improves. You will notice a cumulative effect from exercise over time, as it acts to gently boost your mood and lower anxiety levels when undertaken on a regular, preferably daily schedule.

I’m too [insert here] to exercise!

As we mentioned above, physical activity goes far beyond a formal gym environment. Everyone, no matter age, size or workload, can find a gentle and fulfilling exercise to add to their daily schedule. It’s possible for everyone to embrace physical activity, as a boost to mental as well as physical wellbeing, no matter their circumstances. Don’t be discouraged.

Exercise has been shown to help boot mood and reduce anxiety in patients, and is worth incorporating into any serious recovery plan.


Superfoods for your mental health

Mental health is a complicated and delicate arena- but did you know diet can have a profound effect on your mental wellbeing as well as physical? From assisting children and adults battling with the effects of ADD right through to lifting the symptoms of depression, what you eat can help you recover.

What is a superfood, anyway?

While superfood has become somewhat of a buzzword to sell exotic concoctions from far off mountains, the basic definition of a superfood is simply a food that is viewed to be particularly dense in nutrients and vitamins. Many ‘normal’, everyday foods fall as easily into the category as something exotic.

Why eat for mental health?

The brain is one of the most sensitive organs in the body. Very small shifts in the chemistry of the body- such as a hangover- can have profound effects on the brain. Whether the damage is permanent at the time, or merely passing, the cumulative effects of poor nutrition will have an effect on wellbeing, memory and brain health. It’s possible to help restore, or prevent, some of the damage done by eating a diet rich in foods designed to promote brain health.

What are some beneficial superfoods?

Blueberries in particular, but most berries, can help reduce oxidative stress in the brain. This has been suggested as a factor in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. It can also help boost motor skills and learning capacity. Nuts and seeds are powerful sources of Vitamin E, helping to prevent cognitive decline. Whether taken through healthy nut butters, raw or roasted, the effects are definitely beneficial on brain function. Avocado, as a source of monounsaturated fat, helps with blood flow which helps both nurture the brain and reduce blood pressure. Hypertension can be a risk factor for cognitive decline.

Wheat germ is also a beneficial superfood with fibre, Vitamin E and Omega 3s to bring to the table. Beans are a great, economical way to stabilise blood sugar. Blood sugar fluctuations can have profoundly detrimental effects on the brain, as the brain is one of the primary users of glucose in the body. Remember that citrus fruits and colourful vegetables contain high levels of beneficial antioxidants that work to boost brain health, and pomegranates in particular can be very beneficial. Walnuts are a great sources of ALA, while spinach contains Luetin, both of which ward off cognitive decline.

Hydration is vital for the brain.

Don’t forget that the brain contains a lot of the water within the body. Even the mild dehydration of a hangover can have a profoundly damaging effect on the brain. Keep hydrate by drinking water regularly to ensure that your brain is always in an optimal state.

What about Omega threes?

Of course, almost everyone has heard the buzz around Omega 3 fatty acids at the moment. Omega 3s are essential for brain function, and can be found in most oily fish. Of course, there is issues with mercury contamination in many verities of fish at the moment, however, and mercury can actually have detrimental effects on brain function. It’s best to stick to wild-caught salmon and vegetable sources of Omega 3 at the moment, although sardines and herring both also contain good amounts of Omega 3 safely. Nuts, seeds and most ‘fatty’ veggies contain Omega 3.

Surprising superfood sources.

Dark chocolate not only contains antioxidants, but caffeine which can help sharpen focus and magnesium and other nutrients that help boost your production of feel good endorphins. Don’t get over-excited, though- the benefits come from small doses daily, not a whole bar in one sitting! Freshly brewed tea is also a rich source of antioxidants and catechines that help effect memory, blood flow and mood. While it can be hot or iced at the time of consumption, sadly it only counts for fresh brewed and not bottled sources as delicate ingredients soon break down.

Whole grains can be healthy.

Whole grains have recently fallen out of favour with the general product, mostly due to the hype surrounding gluten free. However, wholegrains like oats and brown rich contribute to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease by boosting blood flow.

These aren’t particularly special foods!

As we mentioned, while there are also exotic and fancy ‘superfoods’ with the same great properties we have been looking at, it’s not essential to break the budget simply to get beneficial nutrition for the brain. Simple and freely available foods also fit the superfood definition with their rich and intense vitamin benefits.
Superfoods can be intense and exotic, or simply the contents of your pantry, as long as they are providing a dense hit of nutrients and goodness. These vital superfoods above will help boost your brain as well as ward off oxidative damage and cognitive decline. In turn, this can slow or stop the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s while also assisting with memory and attention span.