While there are many effective drugs for anxiety and depression from the pharmacy, exercise is proven to be 1.5 times more effective in some cases.
If you’re an adult, you more than likely understand by now that life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. At some point, you may have found yourself standing in front of a pharmacy shelf, your eyes darting over the array of bottles and boxes, each promising to help lift your mood or ease your worries. But instead of reaching for one of these pharma “cures,” what if you laced up your sneakers and went for a walk instead?
As odd as it may sound, a groundbreaking study from BJM Sports Medicine suggests exercise could be a more effective treatment for anxiety and depression than any pill bottle on the shelf.
In this blog, we'll explore how depression and anxiety affect Americans, how exercise is proven to help and some easy ways to incorporate it into your busy schedule. Don’t worry - no sweat session required to read this article, but we bet you’ll be inspired to get moving by the end!
Disclaimer: Experts don’t recommend stopping medications. Speak with your doctor before making any medication decisions.
Depression and Anxiety in America
America, a nation renowned for its vibrancy and dynamism, grapples with a sad reality: a rapidly escalating rate of depression and anxiety. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports nearly a billion people worldwide are navigating the rough terrains of mental disorders, with a sizeable portion residing here in the U.S.
We've reeled in some eye-opening facts about mental health in America:
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports depression affects about 7.1% of the U.S. population aged 18 and older.
- Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting about 18.1% of the population.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. 
While these statistics may sound grim, there's a silver lining! The medical community has traditionally relied on a mix of psychotherapy and medications to manage these issues. But it’s great news that the answer might be as simple as regular, moderate physical activity! Find why in the next section.
Only 20-40 minutes of exercise a day is all that’s needed to reap the benefits of exercise for your mental health.
Why Exercise is More Effective
So how does exercise perform this mental magic exactly? The answer lies within our brain-body connection. Exercise triggers a symphony of biochemical reactions that create mood-boosting endorphins. These "happy chemicals" light up our brain's reward center and reduce stress and anxiety while increasing happiness and satisfaction. It’s a beautiful thing!
It's not just about the chemicals, though. Exercise has also been found to reduce inflammation, significantly improving health outcomes for people with mood disorders. In simpler terms, when you move your body, you burn calories and fight off physical and emotional distress.
It’s important to note that anyone can take advantage of this free medicine. This monumental study champions physical activity as a first-choice treatment for individuals with mental health issues, regardless of age or health condition. Whether you're a healthy adult, a growing teen, a pregnant woman, living with depression, HIV or kidney disease - regular, moderate exercise could significantly improve your mental well-being no matter where you are on life’s journey.
Easy 30-Minute Exercise Ideas
If you already dread the idea of spending hours in the gym, the best part of this study is for you! It takes just 20-40 minutes a day of physical activity to see a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. That's a small time investment for a massive payoff in your mental health.
Shorter, high-intensity exercise programs produced the study's most profound mental health benefits. This means you don't have to commit to lengthy, grueling workouts to see the difference in your health. Say goodbye to hours on the treadmill or in cardio classes, and say hello to shorter workouts that can fit into your schedule.
To help get you started, here are some simple 30-minute exercise ideas:
- Take a walk. Whether a quick walk in the park or a leisurely stroll with your four-legged friend, walking is an excellent low-impact exercise that can significantly boost your mood. If you're a pet owner, you're likely smiling right now because you know this is one form of therapy your dog will be more than happy to do with you.
- Try yoga. Yoga is an excellent mind-body exercise that improves flexibility and helps calm the mind.
- Dance it out. Put on your favorite tunes and dance like nobody's watching. Dancing isn’t just fun - it's also a great way to get your heart pumping!
- Get gardening. Gardening can be a therapeutic activity that keeps you active and connects you with nature.
Embarking on a new fitness regimen can seem overwhelming. So start by setting small, achievable goals. Try 10 minutes a day if you’re new or just getting back into exercise. Gradually increase your duration and intensity as your fitness improves. Remember, the journey to improved mental health is a marathon, not a sprint.
In conclusion, the path to a healthier mind might not lie in a pill bottle, but at the end of a jogging trail, on a yoga mat, or even in the joy of dancing to your favorite song. For a country that’s slowly being overwhelmed by the effects of mental health concerns, this new research offers hope. It's time we change our perception of exercise as an 'added extra' and recognize it as an essential part of our mental health regime. So turn your attention to the gym, the park, or even the neighborhood streets - and make movement your medicine!
 Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Published Online: 16 February 2023. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195
 United Nations News. (2022, June 24). Nearly one billion people have a mental disorder: WHO. UN News. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
 Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved July 31, 2023, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
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