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The estimated 19 million adults across the country who suffer from depression know that there is no way to appropriately express how crippling it can be. For those not familiar with the illness, the National Institute of Mental Health defines it as “a common but serious illness…[that] interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you.”

Depression is treatable, usually with counselling, anti-depressants, or a combination of both. But research suggests there might be an additional option, just as effective as anti-depressants.

Researchers have been studying exercise and depression for decades and the results indicate exercise can be a great tool for dealing with symptoms and potentially feeling better long-term. Exercise is a great tool because it can be used alongside any other treatment plan without any side effects or issues.

Exercise also helps people feel better right away—no other treatment options can claim such quick results. Read on to find out the 10 ways being active can help with depression.

1)  Exercise Releases Endorphins

Endorphins, known for relieving pain and promoting positive feelings, are chemicals naturally produced in the brain during exercise. These chemicals are responsible for the feeling of euphoria after exercise, commonly described as the “runner’s high.” While anti-depressants usually take days or weeks to start helping with depression symptoms, endorphins could help relieve symptoms in minutes.

2)  Increased Serotonin Levels

Serotonin is another naturally occurring chemical that regulates mood, appetite and the sleep cycle. Low levels of serotonin are tied to depression and though many chemicals influence mood, serotonin is one of the most significant. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of serotonin in the brain—improving mood, restoring appetite and promoting more restful sleep.

3)  Physical Activity is a Distraction

Depression can be especially debilitating when people suffering get caught up in negative thoughts. Experts believe that being active and focusing on workouts can help keep the mind busy and relieve some of that negative thinking.

4) Exercise with Others May Provide Social Support

It’s been said that working out with friends will keep you invested and accountable to your fitness goals, but workout buddies bring other benefits, too. Exercising with friends can help foster feelings of connectedness and dispel feelings of loneliness, which is a common problem for depressed people.

5)  Exercise Helps Us Deal with Stress

A study from the University of Georgia determined that over the course of a few weeks, regular exercise can increase the level of galanin in the brain. Galanin is a peptide neurotransmitter that seems to help the body better handle stress. The stress tests were done on lab rats, but researchers think the results are likely to carry over for humans dealing with daily stresses, as well.

 6)  Improved Sleep

Exercise helps increase levels of serotonin, which in turn lead to healthier sleep patterns. A major symptom of depression is insomnia, so it’s especially important to get in a workout and reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

7)  Exercise Improves Energy

Better sleep means more energy, but exercise itself gives off its own major boost. Rigorous workouts improve blood flow and get more oxygen to the brain, which often means a clearer mind and an invigorated body.

8)  It Helps Prevent Some Major Health Issues

Regular exercise is incredibly effective at preventing or alleviating a number of serious illnesses. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer top the list of issues you can combat with a good exercise regime

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