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Emotional Exercise: The Top 5 best exercises to manage depression signs.

Depression is a mental health disorder that is characterized by extreme sadness, lack of willpower, and inability to move forward with life as the feeling of despair and downness is overwhelming. As mentioned in the previous blog, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression have linked physical signs that are linked to emotional distress. Depression is correlated to physical problems like joint and back pain & muscle issues, to more severe diseases like gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, cancer, and more major comorbidities.


With depression, the most common form of healing are antidepressants and therapy. However, depression is not fully resolved by just these methods, mental disorders need to be managed by those who are affected by it. Mental health disorder management is essential in keeping low levels of stress, depression, and anxiety to manage a sustainable healthy lifestyle and healthy overall well-being. There are many ways to start self-help or self-healing, and I recommend starting with exercise. Based on studies, exercise helps in improving mental health and mood, which is mainly caused by increasing blood circulation in the body. There are tons of exercises, but these are the top 5 best exercises to manage depression that is recommended:


Boxing (Non-Contact)



Non-contact boxing with punching bag

With increasing preference for alternative methods of managing mental health, more people resort to non-therapy or non-medical methods to remove or improve their depression signs. With studies backing up physical activity or exercise as effective tools, more people lean toward it, but they seek exercises that incorporate high intensity intervals (HIIT) that improves cardio (Bozdarov, Jones, Daskalakis & Husain, 2023). Studies show that Boxing is not only a high intensity exercise, but it is a mixture of some of the grounding techniques like Distract (focusing on the target) and Breathing (incorporating breathing through the movement). Aside from the metabolic benefits, like improving blood pressure, fat percentage and stamina, Non-contact Boxing shows benefits on mental health like increased self-confidence, better mood, better performance in work and school responsibilities, and better self-perception because non-contact boxing serves as an outlet of stress and anger, because many of the testimonies in the study state that instead of redirecting aggression towards other people of the self, the exercise provides them an healthy outlet.


Swimming



Swimming in a lake

Another form of exercise, and is more aqua-based rather than land-based, is swimming. A study by Jackson, Kang et al. (2022), conducted a study on how water-based exercises affect certain variables, like mood, self-esteem, anxiety, psychological well-being, and depression levels. The study, along with the studies referenced by the authors, all summarize that water-based exercises, including cold water swimming, improve stress levels and mood, as well as other physical benefits like lung performance. According to the respondents in the studies, swimming is beneficial and more preferred than land-based exercises because these are low impact, relaxing & easy, and able to enjoy water temperatures (Jackson, Kang, et al., 2022).


Dance


Couple dancing salsa

Physical activity is not just constrained to sports or exercises, even dance is part of therapeutic methods of physical activities that helps in improving mental health. Studies were conducted to determine the effectiveness of impact of dance on mental health, particularly on those who suffer anxiety and depression. Studies conclude that dance decreases depression and anxiety signs in the those affected by it, and the results are comparable with other methods (Prudente, Mezaiko, Silveira, & Nogueira, 2024). Dance not only promotes physical activity and exercise through movement, but dance also helps release emotional frustrations, outlet for stress and alternative to therapy as there are therapeutic benefits by releasing emotions and being able to express oneself, which is needed for emotional and mental health.


Yoga



Woman practicing yoga beside the lake

Yoga is another physical exercise that serves as more of an alternative and complement to traditional methods of mental health management. Yoga has shown that those who practice yoga primarily as a physical exercise, or a complement with other interventions and physical activity, based on the study conducted by Bridges (2017). Yoga has been helpful in decreasing depression levels in pregnant women, those with irregular heartbeats, those who suffer from stroke, and substance abusers. Overall, Yoga has been serving as an alternative because of the physical benefits, but also the practiced grounding techniques like breathing exercises, muscle compression and release, and relief on the brain through meditation.


Cycling



Cycling on the mountain side


Last physical activity that helps improve mental health is Cycling or Bike riding. Bike riding is not just a form of recreation and physical outdoor activity, but bike riding is now a common form of transportation that serves as an alternative to public transport commute. Depression, like most disorders, stem from uncontrolled stress levels that lead to hyper or hypo arousal. Studies show that people who take their bike to work 4 out of the 5 weekdays they work (which is 80% of the time) significantly cut their stress levels (Palencia, Nazelle, Cole-Hunter, et al., 2017). Biking is not only a physical activity, but it is a chance to enjoy greenness, which is correlated to better well-being and lower risk of depression and anxiety.


These are some of the best exercises suggested for those looking at alternatives to improving mental health. There are many more exercises that contribute to improving well-being, but these are the ones that most people would be able to enjoy and integrate in their lifestyle routines. Regardless of exercise or activity, the importance is that managing depression can be done through a redirection of energy towards an activity that can be enjoyed. Whether we can swim or not, as long as we remain active, we are able to lead ourselves to a stress-free and brighter life.


References:

 

Avila-Palencia I, de Nazelle A, Cole-Hunter T, et al

The relationship between bicycle commuting and perceived stress: a cross-sectional study

BMJ Open 2017;7:e013542. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013542

 

Bozdarov J, Jones BDM, Daskalakis ZJ, Husain MI. Boxing as an Intervention in Mental Health: A Scoping Review. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2023;17(4):589-600. doi:10.1177/15598276221124095

 

Bridges L, Sharma M. The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2017;22(4):1017-1028. doi:10.1177/2156587217715927

 

Morgan Jackson, Manjot Kang, James Furness, Kevin Kemp-Smith (2022). Aquatic exercise and mental health: A scoping review, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 66, 2022, 102820, ISSN 0965-2299, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2022.102820.

 

Prudente, T.P.; Mezaiko, E.; Silveira, E.A.; Nogueira, T.E. Effect of Dancing Interventions on Depression and Anxiety Symptoms in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Behav. Sci. 2024, 14, 43. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs14010043

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