It is hard to get motivated to exercise. I know this to be true for myself and a host of others. Daily life doesn’t always include the extra time needed in order to exercise. Day long hikes, weekend campouts and spontaneous activities of past years have turned into quiet, early evenings and week-ends of kicking back and enjoying the couch. Not all the time of course, but according to the numbers, Americans are increasingly out-of-shape and depressed. Exercise may help us not only be more fit, but feel happier too.

Depression is the most common mental illness—affecting a staggering 25 percent of Americans.

A 2011 study found that exercise helped 30% of depression patients get relief when medications had not been effective. These results were equal to or better than findings using anti-depressant drugs.

Scientists believe that exercise combats depression by increasing endorphins, natural chemicals in the brain that when stimulated help make us feel good.  Another theory suggests that aerobic activity boosts a neurotransmitter that is involved with elevating mood.

Physicians reportedly only counsel their depressed patients to exercise 40% of the time! At the same time, there has been a huge increase in anti-depressant prescriptions written. Doctors and patients often choose what is easiest. A patient may be happier taking a little pill when the cheaper and healthier decision should be regular, fitness-level-appropriate exercise.

Madhukar H. Trivedi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, insists “I don’t tell patients what to do.”  But, he does give a recommendation for exercise:

  1. 1.       Three to five sessions per week;
  2. 2.       Each session should last 45 to 60 minutes;
  3. Patients should reach 50 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rates.

Considering all the known benefits to exercising, everyone should strive to get more active. Try starting out with fifteen minutes every other day and slowly work up to a longer duration. Make it fun by going to a park and walking around. Discuss all the options of treating depression with your doctor and ask about the benefits of exercising to fit you specific needs.