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Wondering how to stop depression, and how to prevent yourself from falling into feelings of hopelessness? One solution proven in studies to help: exercise. Research reveals that what’s good for the body is also good for the mind. When you go for a run or a swim, your brain releases brain chemicals such as norepinephrine and endorphins—both of which can boost mood. (If you’ve ever heard the expression “runner’s high,” it refers to the feeling runners get from these chemicals).
Working out regularly will also help you look your best, which can have a big impact on your self-esteem. It also can keep your mind off what’s troubling you.
Preliminary research also finds that exercise might be as effective for relieving depression as antidepressants—and that its benefits may be long-term. So if you’re determined to find out how to stop depression, start here.
Download this expert FREE guide, “Am I Depressed?” Treating depression symptoms, including bipolar and clinical depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
In this free guide, you’ll find depression tests to help you self-diagnose your condition before seeing a physician.
Exercise Plan: Take Your Pick
As many of us can attest, planning to exercise and actually doing it are different. So it’s important to resolve to get started, and remember that any exercise will do. As such, choose a type of exercise you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, going for a brisk walk with a friend, or pumping iron. For seniors, tai chi—often called “moving meditation”—appears to be particularly effective at battling the blues. The keys: a) Work hard enough to break a sweat, and b) do it regularly.
If you’re too busy to spend an hour at the gym each day, sneak 10- to 15-minute bursts of exercise into your day here and there. Even housework and gardening count as exercise. Just be sure to get in a total of 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week.
When setting out to overcome depression, consider diet changes, too. Foods like fish, nuts, and seeds, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, may help ward off depression. That might be why people who eat a Mediterranean diet (in which olive oil, nuts, and fish are staples) are less likely to develop depression than people who eat other kinds of foods.
Processed and sugary foods are high in simple carbs and trans fats, which may boost energy transiently but ultimately can drain your energy and make you feel even more down in the dumps.
Yet, often these are the very foods we crave when we’re depressed. If you’ve ever grabbed a chocolate bar when you were feeling down, you’re not alone. Research shows that both women and men tend to eat more chocolate when they’re depressed. But when you crave junk food, try to reach for a carrot or celery stick instead of a candy bar.
For further reading on how to fend off depression, see these University Health News posts:
- “How to Fight Depression“
- “8 Natural Dopamine Boosters to Overcome Depression“
- “How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Can Drive Mood Swings“
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.