Is reducing depression as simple as adopting a regular exercise routine? Many of us have heard that exercise such as yoga, biking, or jogging can improve mood. However, you may be wondering if this is an opinion or if there is solid scientific research indicating that exercise can really help people who are battling depression.
The reality is that there is a wealth of compelling research that supports exercise, including yoga as a modality for helping treat depression. As stated in the 2008 Summary of the Physical Activity Guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are in fact many research studies that claim that those who adopt a regular exercise routine feel better and experience reduction in symptoms of depression.
It is, however, important to do the right type of exercise. The most beneficial forms of exercise for reducing depression are moderately challenging as opposed to very light physical activity. These may include aerobic exercise that incorporates strengthening elements. A yoga practice for example can be very useful alleviating depression.
Many research studies validate the claim that yoga enhances emotional well being and combats depression. For example research indicates that levels of cortisol (a primary stress hormone) in the bloodstream are lowered following a yoga routine. Also established research has found that yoga improves serotonin levels.
A study conducted in 2009 evaluated mood changes prior to and following yoga therapy. The moods of 54 participants, prior to and following 2 weeks of yoga therapy, were compared against one another. 64% of the study's participants experienced a decrease in mood disturbance, while 53% where found to have reduced their depression symptoms.
Amy Weintraub, a former depression sufferer herself, author of Yoga for Depression, and founder of LifeForce Yoga explains, "When the mind is absorbed in a negative spiral of thoughts, whether it is anxiety based or depression, the mind needs something to focus on that takes it away from that negative spiral." Yoga for depression, she explains, does precisely that.
Weintraub also recommends yogic breathing exercises as a remedy for depression. These work by stimulating the vagus nerve, which is known to decrease symptoms of depression. It was found that one breathing technique in particular was able to bring about as great as a 73% reversal of major depression.
The body of research as well as expert advice supports yoga therapy as a way to effectively reduce depression and increase emotional well being. Weintraub points out that it is not the particular style of yoga that is essential. Find a class that feels right to you. "Find a teacher," she advises, "which makes you feel, when you walk out the door, like your life has changed in that moment. That you are fresh and alive." Weintraub also warns people who are new to yoga not to change their medication. Even though many people start seeing improvement right away, it is better to wait for no less than 9 months of regular yoga practice before even thinking about stopping your prescription anti-depressants.