A growing body of research establishes that the feel-good buzz that lingers when you leave the gym isn’t all in your head. In fact, a heart-pumping workout can be as effective as prescription drugs when it comes to improving overall mood and reducing the symptoms of depression — without the side effects.
“Being physically active is one of the most powerful ways of dealing with depression, whether mild, moderate or even severe,” says Kate F. Hays, PhD, clinical psychologist and past president of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology.
While much of the research has focused on the benefits of aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, biking or swimming, Hays notes that rhythmic, repetitive and even slightly aggressive exercises that involve diaphragmatic breathing can also help alleviate depression.
The medicine-ball slam, for example, involves lifting a specially designed, weighted ball overhead and then banging it to the ground. (For step-by-step, how-to instructions, check out our Show Me How video.)
“There’s an old theory that depression is anger turned inward. One of the wonderful things about using an exercise like this one is that you can slam those feelings away,” says Hays. “It involves your entire body, it’s core strengthening, you can track your improvement and it’s also very easy to do. That’s important, because someone who is depressed isn’t going to start something that takes a lot of effort to learn.”
As little as 10 minutes of exercise can improve mood and energy levels, according to research by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). To really wrestle the blues into submission, though, the AASP recommends moderate activity for 30 minutes three times a week. It’s also important to choose a routine that works with your lifestyle, that you enjoy, and that you will continue — even on the days when you’re down in the dumps.