The Most Natural Medication You Can Use: Exercise

Modern medicine has turned away from what we do to prevent and treat ailments naturally and moved toward what pills can be taken to subside the effects. In 2010, spending in the United States for prescription drugs was $259.1 billion. This is expected to sharply increase in 2014 after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act which will give a larger population access to prescription medication. What can we do to reduce the cost of health care? It’s quite simple and easy; exercise.

Being physically active produces many positive effects. Besides the obvious weight loss, muscle gain, and cardiovascular endurance effects, exercise can produce many other physical and mental effects. Many hormones are released during and after an exercise regimen. Testosterone, insulin, epinephrine, and growth hormone are a few. Endorphins and serotonin are two chemicals released during exercise which are related to depression and anxiety. While stress and anxiety are normal feelings throughout the day, over 40 million adults are diagnosed with anxiety disorders, making it the most common psychiatric illness in the United States.  In studies, exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, improve sleep, improve self-esteem, and elevate mood. Through the release of endorphins, which acts as the body’s natural pain killers, exercise can help reduce fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and improve cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when the body and mind are stressed.

Medication aimed at battling anxiety and depression is developed with the same goal. Releasing serotonin and neurotransmitter synthesis such as dopamine help to increase mood, decrease tension, and improve cognitive abilities. Sounds quite familiar to what an exercise regimen does to the body and brain. Some studies have shown that performing regular physical activity can produce the same effects for individuals suffering from mild depression or anxiety. In 1999, researchers at Duke University found that of the 156 older patients diagnosed with severe depression, those partaking in an exercise program showed significant and comparable improvement relative to those who took antidepressant medication. This study followed the participants for six additional months after they were released from the trial and found that only eight percent of the patients using exercise saw their depression return in comparison to the thirty eight percent of the drug only group. They concluded that establishing a regular physical activity schedule was far more effective and easy to adhere to over a long period of time.

As stated earlier, exercise has other effects apart from the chemical releases by the body. Another reason physical activity has been shown to help depression is the heightened self esteem produced by exercise. When an individual exercises, a change in body image naturally occurs. One might lose weight, show more muscular tone, or achieve goals they didn’t believe they could reach. This new self esteem improves mood and increased happiness. When new goals are attained, an individual gains confidence and sets new goals to achieve. Exercise comes in many forms; most of those involve social interaction. Social interaction, such as exchanging a friendly smile, positive reinforcement from a trainer, or meeting with friends, leads to a more positive atmosphere. Negative thoughts and stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Exercise provides an escape from these everyday worries.

How much exercise is needed to see these effects? It’s less than you may think. Studies have shown that after only five minutes of aerobic exercise, anti-anxiety effects can begin. Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression have found that a ten minute workout can work just as well as a 45 minute workout for temporary relief. Studies show that performing moderate physical activity five times per week for 30 minutes per session is the ideal regimen. Frequency is found to be more important than duration so walking fifteen minutes per day is better than working out for three hours one day on the weekend. It can be difficult to start an exercise regimen so ease into the program. Most sedentary individuals require four to eight weeks to feel the effects of exercise once they start a workout regimen. Finding a workout partner often keeps an individual accountable to adhere to their program. The most important thing when planning your attack is to choose exercises you enjoy. Exercise can be walking, hiking, lawn care, athletics, and so much more. Find something you like to perform for you will look forward to doing it each day.

If you’re feeling down or a bit stressed, take time to escape and relieve those feelings through the most natural medicine you’ll find; exercise.

Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).