A slew of studies have found exercise has a profound impact on mood and, in cases of mild to moderate depression, a cardiovascular workout might be as effective as prescription anti-depressants.
How Exercise Boosts Moods
Exercise is believed to trigger changes in the brain, boosting levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, stimulating connections between neurons, lowering stress hormones, easing depression and improving mood. New research offers another explanation.
A 2019 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found exercise increased levels of endocannabinoids in the blood. These molecules interact with the same brain receptors as cannabis and have been shown to increase mood. The research showed 20 minutes of exercise, regardless of intensity, helped women with major depression feel less depressed and anxious — but there was one important difference.
How Coaching Amplifies It
Lead author Jacob Meyer, PhD, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, compared two different sessions and discovered that when women were instructed to ride stationary bicycles at an intensity of their choosing — even when it was a moderate-to-high-intensity pace — their mood improved but their endocannabinoid levels remained unchanged. It was only when women were instructed to ride at a moderate intensity that their mood and endocannabinoid levels increased.
Why Intensity Matters
Among a group of college students diagnosed with depression, symptoms decreased for those who engaged in six weeks of moderate-intensity exercise or high-intensity interval training; depression worsened among those who did not exercise at all, according to research published in Biological Psychology. A separate study found increasing exercise intensity by as little as 10% was associated with significant increases in antidepressant effects.
Trainers and Classes
If hiring a personal trainer isn’t in the budget, consider group exercise classes. Ratamess believes an instructor could push you to train harder and encourage you to push to get through the workout. The other exercisers in the class could provide motivation, too. Coaching increased workout times as much as 200%.
So, did we convince you coaching lessens depression?