How Does Exercise Combat Depression

October 29, 2014

A cancer diagnosis can be difficult to handle. Cancer affects your physical body as well as your attitudes, thoughts or feelings. You may experience a range of emotions like fear, anger, sadness and helplessness. When these feelings interfere with daily normal functions you may be experiencing anxiety or depression. It is important to talk to your health care team about these feelings so you can discuss ways to cope with these emotions. Some people participate in support groups or individual counseling while others talk with family and friends.

Another beneficial coping strategy people turn to is exercise. Daily exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression, release muscle tension and reduce levels of cortisol,–a stress hormone. When you exercise, chemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain, spinal cord and many other parts of the body. Endorphins can decrease your awareness of pain and trigger positive feelings in the body. Additionally, research shows that physical activity improves the quality of life for people in active cancer treatment.

Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be effective. The following are some examples of ways to stay active. Be sure to talk to your doctor before participating in any form of physical activity. Some simple and effective forms of exercise are:

  • Walking
  • Gardening or cleaning
  • Light jogging
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Dance
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Golf

There are also many other benefits to exercise. Doctors often recommend staying as active as possible. Exercise not only combats depression, but it can also:

  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Strengthen the heart
  • Increase energy levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve muscle tone and strength
  • Strengthen and build bones
  • Help reduce body fat
  • Reduce the risk of cancer recurrence
  • Improve quality of life

The Cancer Support Community offers resources to help you cope and live healthy with cancer.

If you have questions or would like more information you can call CSC’s toll free Cancer Support Helpline® at 1-888-793-9355 to speak with a call counselor who can answer any question you may have.