Getting enough exercise can sometimes be difficult. You may have trouble fitting it into your schedule or finding the motivation on a cold and rainy day. It can be particularly difficult to get the motivation to get up and get active if you are feeling depressed or down. Around one in five Dutch people suffer from depression once in their lifetime. Nevertheless, various studies show that exercise has a positive effect on your mood. Furthermore, it has shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from symptoms of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. 

Exercise against depression

Many studies have shown that exercise can be a protective factor against depression. Those who exercise regularly have a lower chance of being depressed. Studies have even shown that exercising can reduce symptoms of depression, comparable to therapy or antidepressants. 

Exercise does not only directly influence your mood, but also can be very beneficial indirectly. Think about making a new friend at your local sports team, or getting some fresh air and sunlight during your lunchtime walk, or even working off your stress and anxieties at the local gym. In addition, people who exercise more often feel better about themselves. They are more confident and have a more positive self-image, compared to those people who do little exercise. 

Positive effects on your body and mind

We have all heard how exercise is good for our physical health. Exercise for example ensures that our respiratory system and blood circulation function well. It strengthens our immune system and can help to form a good sleeping pattern.

What you may not realise however is how exercise is beneficial for our brain and stimulates the growth of nerve cells in the brain, which improves your ability to learn. 

What’s more, exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. This is good news because there is increasing evidence linking inflammation with depression and anxiety. 

Finally, there is evidence that exercise boosts neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) such as serotonin and endorphins which have a positive effect on our mood and motivation. All these factors can contribute to boosting your mood, motivation and mental health, and in turn, also reinforce each other. For example, a good workout in the sun boosts your mood and motivation, making it more likely that you’ll go out and exercise again. This creates a positive vicious cycle instead of a negative one.

Make it a habit

It is important to make exercise a habit. The sooner you make it a habit, the quicker you will notice the benefits and the easier it will become. Evidence seems to suggest that even small amounts of exercise can make a difference, for example going for a 15-minute jog. 

Exercise doesn’t only mean playing for your local sports team or going to the gym. Exercise can be done in many forms, even for example through household chores or cycling to work.  It is important that you choose a form of exercise that suits you best. Participating in a sport or taking up exercise that you enjoy, can make each day a little better and easier.

Ask or challenge a friend

All types of exercise appear to have a beneficial effect on people’s mental, physical and emotional health, and the benefits of adding it to your daily routine cannot be understated. Do you have trouble fitting exercise into your schedule? It can also help you, for example, to meet up with a friend and exercise together. Having your friend come with you can provide that extra bit of motivation to get active. 

You can use the NiceDay app to see how many steps you take each day. Switch on the pedometer and challenge your friends, family or colleagues to see who can take the most steps.

Don’t forget that small steps can go a long way!

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Martijn Thomas

Hi, I am Martijn, psychologist at NiceDay. In my spare time I like to produce music, exercise and hangout with friends.

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