Combating depression with bodybuilding.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where, along with talk therapy, medication is the most commonly prescribed treatment for depression. Of course depression is a serious issue, and deserves to be treated with a broad range of methods, but all too often, health professionals overlook lifestyle considerations as potentially life-saving, because it’s easy to hand someone a pill.
Of course, we all know that exercise is a great way to shake depression, but that’s not a very specific recommendation. Let’s take a closer look at how this might work. Not everyone with high body fat is unfit, but most are, so for for broad statistical analysis we can use high body fat as an indicator of low exercise, and compare it to depression statistics.
According to Gabriel Villarreal, a strength coach and licensed therapist with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health:
“If you have one, the chances of having the other are around seventy-five percent. Whether it’s depression, ADHD, anxiety, postpartum depression, Alzheimer’s disease, or another mental health disorder, if you’re diagnosed with a mental health disorder then there’s a seventy-five percent chance you’re overweight or obese.”
Of course, the relationship between correlation and causation is a vexing one. How is it that exercise can help prevent mental illness, instead of just being correlated with it’s absence?
Although neurology is far from a complete science, we know dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are three crucial neuro-transmitters that tend to be low in people suffering from depression.
Dopamine, in particular is a key in the mind’s reward system, helping us feel motivated to start and complete activities. Exercise appears to increase levels dopamine for about 30 to 90 minutes which is a massive window, and regular exercise may improve a person’s ability to produce regulate the hormone throughout the day. Then there’s norepinephrine and serotonin, are deeply connected to emotions, as well as the activity of the nervous system and sleep cycles.
Production of these chemicals are increased by exercise, but specifically elevated heart rate. This is why cardio often leaves one feeling more elated than a casual weight session. However, an intense lift will drive the hearth rate sky high, and achieve the same effect in less time.
Strength training has the added benefits of boosting testosterone and growth hormone. Low levels of which have both been commonly correlated with depression across multiple studies.
There are also important psychological benefits to training. One, it gets you out of the house, and in an environment with other people. Fitness improves social status, as we perceive fit individuals as more accomplished. In summary, don’t sell the benefits of exercise short as a method to prevent or overcome depression. It is a natural, healthy, and constructive way to maintain both physical and mental health.