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How to Use Diet and Exercise to Naturally Treat Your Depression

Let’s face it. Depression is daunting, but so are some of its treatments. SSRIs, MAOIs, TCAs, SNRIs, nerve or magnetic stimulation, seizure therapy, and even neurosurgery are available to battle depression. For the most part, drugs and intensive medical therapies are only necessary for severe or persistent cases of depression that cannot be resolved in talk therapy or by means of other alternate therapies. If you have recently been diagnosed with depression, if you suffer from a mild form of depression, or if you would like to consider reducing your dependency on depression medications, talk to your doctor or therapist about natural, alternative treatments for depression.

In addition to psychotherapy, a variety of natural methods have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and restore brain chemistry to appropriate function. Individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder, newly diagnosed depression, or mild depression may benefit from using diet and exercise to manage depressive symptoms and avoid or reduce their use of medication for depression or other medical interventions for their illness.

Eat Foods that Reduce Symptoms of Depression

Mother Nature was no fool. A variety of delicious foods naturally provide brain stimulation to produce feel-good hormones, regulate mood, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and boost concentration. Include at least one of the following foods (preferably more) in your diet every single day for the most noticeable effect on depressive symptoms.

Whole Grains. Oats and whole wheat are essential for providing energy to your brain. Without it, your glucose levels can sink and your system will feel tired. When your brain and cells are tired, you feel fatigued and irritable.

Spinach and Bananas and Orange Juice, Oh My! The vital ingredients for mood and health are at no shortage in these foods. The three power foods provide antioxidants that help prevent your brain cells from damage and fight off fatigue, vitamins and minerals that carry oxygen to your brain to help chemical reactions take place and improve sleep, and amino acids to release feel-good serotonin and help you manage stress.

Walnuts and Dark Chocolate. What a delicious combo of mood-boosting foods! Walnuts help prevent irritability, anxiety, and insomnia while dark chocolate helps your brain receive vital oxygen and may even increase levels of dopamine in the brain. The healthy fats they carry may also contain vital nutrients for brain health.

Milk and Eggs. That’s right, down-home farm food is down-right good for your brain. The vitamins and minerals in milk may help reduce anxiety and frustration, while the protein and nutrients in eggs (including the yolk) help improve memory and bump up the brain’s level of serotonin.

Turkey and Salmon. Poultry and fatty fish provide loads of essential nutrients for brain health. The amino acids found in animal cutlets like turkey and salmon help you manage stress, increase your motivation, reduce anxiety, and release serotonin and norepinephrine so that you start feeling relaxed and clear-headed.

Exercise to Beat Depression

Exercise is another natural way to keep symptoms of depression at bay – in fact, some research suggests it can be at least as effective as medication in treating mild depression. Because exercise stimulates the production of feel-good hormones, even getting out of breath for a short period of time helps your brain promote bodily relaxation and tranquility. For the best impact on symptoms of depression, exercise 3 times each week for about 30 minutes per session. More frequent sessions of shorter duration may also be effective. Thankfully, whatever type of exercise you do can be equally beneficial provided you get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Try some of the following suggestions to find an exercise routine you enjoy, or create your own for variety.

Practice Yoga, Pilates, or Meditation. These exercises can be practiced at a variety of skill levels and have been demonstrated to significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and pain for numerous health conditions. All three can improve mood and sleep, tone muscles, and potentially help you mentally work through some of the emotional complications of depression.

Swim. Not only is water therapy used as its own treatment for depression, swimming is also considered an easy exercise option for those with little prior experience with exercise and those who have weight issues or joint pain.

Take Jogs or Walks. Running, speed walking, or just strolling around the neighborhood with your kids or dog can bring immense benefits in terms of mood regulation, stress relief, socialization, and anxiety reduction. Taking your activity outside is ideal in appropriate weather, but if your only option is a gym, work hard to meet friends to multiply the benefits of exercise by also engaging your social self.

Spend Time in Nature. Climb a tree, take a hike, go kayaking or pedal boating, garden, or take up a hobby (such as nature photography) that will get you out and about. Explore on foot or by paddle, chase your kids at the playground, or mow the lawn yourself to get the benefit of the great outdoors in addition to the boost your brain will get from working up a sweat.

Fight Depression Naturally

Diet and exercise are two of the healthiest and simplest ways available to treat mild or seasonal depression. Always follow the advice of a physician or licensed therapist when designing a treatment regimen for depression, but be sure to ask about trying natural lifestyle changes before or instead of medication. In many cases, eating well and being physically active can work wonders in rebalancing the brain and preventing depression from taking control of your life.

Katie Brind’Amour is a freelance health and wellness writer and Certified Health Education Specialist. She has a certificate in Mental Health First Aid and is pursuing her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy. In her spare time, she blogs about friendship and life in the not-so-fast lane. For more articles like these, visit Danae’s Corner.