Movement as Medicine – a natural remedy for low mood and depression
Studies* show that we’re more likely to feel depressed if we don’t move our bodies regularly.
I remember when I had knee surgery and was on crutches for three months. All of a sudden, I had gone from someone very active to being sedentary. I already knew from experience that I feel better when I move my body daily.
For me, exercise isn’t about trying to lose weight or get fit; exercise is how I care for my mind and emotions.
So when I couldn’t do my regular exercise, I was forced to get creative. I was scooting around my house on an office chair and doing all sorts of activities for my upper body.
But it wasn’t enough.
After a week or two, I really noticed a slump in my energy, mood and my motivation.
Movement is medicine
I don’t think people realise how much of a boost we get from daily movement. And it’s not just the feel-good hormones that give us a boost.
Movement is a fantastic tool for discharging internal tension and anxiety. When we’re moving our bodies, our emotional energy and nervous tension flow through and out of the body, helping us to discharge stress and anxiety.
When we’re sedentary, mental and emotional stress has nowhere to go and instead builds up in the form of tension, fatigue and anxiety. Periods of inactivity can be associated with poor mental health.
Movement is a natural antidepressant, yet many people still view it as a chore and a way to burn off calories.
If you own a dog, you will know how your dog behaves if it doesn’t get its daily walk. And after a few days of minimal exercise, a dog can become quite agitated and destructive. This happens to me too. I need to be walked every day; otherwise, I become cranky.
Walking as therapy
When I’m in a funk, I know the best thing to do is put my shoes on and go for a long walk in nature. Walking has been a tremendous mental salve for me in tough times. I remember when I was going through my divorce, I walked about 50km a week. I imagined that every step I took was moving me towards the new life I was creating. I literally walked away from my unhappy marriage. Walking was my therapy.
These days I don’t have the time to walk as much as I used to, so I often jump up and down and shake my body for a few minutes while waiting for the kettle to boil. It looks weird, but it helps me shake off stress and anxious energy.
Find something that feels good.
Movement really is a form of medicine. So if you view exercise as a chore, if you hate the gym or have to force yourself to get active, I encourage you to find something that feels good and then keep doing it.
The key to using movement to boost our mood is finding something we enjoy doing.
We don’t have to take up running if we hate it.
We don’t have to join a gym if we find it boring.
We can join a dance class, jump on a trampoline (one of my favourites), splash about in the pool, or go for a leisurely walk.
Vinyasa Yoga – a moving meditation
While walking is my favourite, I’m a big fan of Vinyasa Yoga. Something magical happens when we synchronise movement to breath. We become really present and enter the flow state. It becomes a moving, breathing meditation.
While Yin Yoga is relaxing, it doesn’t boost our mood as quickly as a Vinyasa yoga class. Vinyasa Yoga really shifts our energy, boosts our mood, gets us out of our heads and into our bodies, discharges anxious energy and releases endorphins.
Vinyasa Yoga can give us a natural high.
And it’s comforting to know that if we’ve been feeling down, low or stuck in a rut, we can shift our inner state and feel better by synchronising movement to breath.
Vinyasa Yoga to boost your mood.
If you’ve never tried Vinyasa Yoga before, here is a short video to help you to connect movement with breath and boost your mood and energy.
1. 1. Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R,et al.l Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 16 February 2023. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-Carek, P., Lainstain, S. Exercise for the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 2011 Vol 41(1).
2. Weyer S. Physical inactivity and depression in the community. International Journal of Sports Medicine 1992; 13: 492–496.
3. Galper DI, Trivedi MH, Barlow CE, Dunn AL, Kampert JB. Inverse association between physical inactivity and mental health in men and women. Medical Science Sports Exercise 2006; 38: 173–178.
4. Ernst C, Olson AK, Pinel JP, Lam RW, Christie BR. Antidepressant effects of exercise: Evidence for an adult-neurogensis hypothesis? Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 2006; 31: 84–92.
5. Mau M, Aaby A, Klausen S. Are Long-Distance Walks Therapeutic? A Systematic Scoping Review of the Conceptualisation of Long-Distance Walking and Its Relation to Mental Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2021 18(15), 7741