Thinking about using exercise to relieve depression and anxiety? Good idea, but, make sure you read this first as exercise could do more damage than good. Imagine putting all that effort into exercise, but it makes your symptoms worse…
Firstly, you might be wondering what qualifies me to talk about this topic, good question. Let me introduce myself. I’m Ben and I work as the fitness co-ordinator at one of the UK’s leading mental health hospitals. The reason I’m writing this blog is that I have come across a lot of people the last 3 years that lack this knowledge, it has been detrimental to their depression and anxiety. I’m also including a simple technique I have learnt in the past 3 years that decreases your symptoms, which you can start using straight away.
As you have probably been told, exercise is good for relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety. Most doctors will tell you its good for your ‘hormone balance’, but what does this even mean? And is it actually doing anything positive?
Well the answer is yes it can (thankfully!), but only if you get it right. What the doctors don’t seem to tell you is if you get it wrong it can be quite detrimental and actually make you feel worse, imagine putting time and effort into exercise when your already feeling like crap and then it making you feel worse! I have come across this many times and it really upsets me. But what’s great is when I teach someone the simple techniques to getting it right, and how helpful exercise can really be.
It’s actually really frustrating that we are not being given the simple information to getting it right, the good news is that it’s incredibly simple. There’s a technique and exercise formula to getting it right, which health professionals and doctors don’t seem to be telling us. I’m not saying they are deliberately withholding information from us. Perhaps I’m one of the first people to come across it as I’m seeing exactly what works first hand whilst working with so many people suffering with depression and anxiety.
I’m going to keep this as simple as possible. So if you look at exercise as a stress on the body, it becomes incredibly clear and simple. First of all understand the roll of cortisol (a stress hormone). When your body is stressed due to depression and anxiety the body slowly secretes more and more of this hormone, over time this makes your symptoms a lot worse as it effects the function of the brain.
When you exercise (remember exercise is a stress on the body) this means it also increases cortisol. So it’s clear, exercise can make you feel worse due to the effect it has on stress hormones, but only when it is used incorrectly.
But there is a very easy way around this, using the correct exercise technique known as ‘flexible exercise’. Using short moderate intensity workouts (around 10-30 minutes long). This increases cortisol, as all exercise does, but, and this is a big ‘but’, only momentary increase. As its a short burst at the correct intensity, it doesn’t over stress an already stressed body. Once the body quickly recovers, your cortisol levels actually decrease as your body is becoming more efficient at dealing with the stress exercise causes. This type of exercise is known as ‘flexible exercise’.
Im not saying everyone should exercise this way, just people that are experiencing depression and anxiety.
Try 10 minutes of exercise every morning when you get up, maybe just start with some squats and jogging on the spot. I have seen this sort of short, daily flexible exercise help many clients I have worked with. There’s a lot more to it than this such as timing and exercise selection, but this is a good starting point.
Flexible exercise is something I call a ‘Lifestyle Trigger’. These are small changes and adaptions you can make to your lifestyle that trigger a positive response to your hormone harmony and help you to relieve depression and anxiety. If you want to learn more about flexible exercise and other lifestyle triggers check out my free lifestyle triggers email series here.