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560 Cohasset Road
Chico, CA 95926

Using Exercise to Help Ward Off Depression

Exercise is a great way to naturally improve your mental health and reduce your symptoms of depression. The trick can be getting started and keeping your routine, especially if you are dealing with depression. However, we have ideas to help you get moving!

How Exercise Helps Depression

In order for your body to function properly, your mind has to be healthy and alert. The state of your mind affects your body. If you are tired, depressed, or anxious, you are less likely to participate in exercise or other healthy activities that you perceive as strenuous. However, exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Let’s talk a little more about how this is possible.

According to the Journal of Psychiatry, the improvements in mood are believed to be caused by exercise-induced increases in blood circulation to the brain, and thus, on the physical reactivity to stress. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you happy, boosts your self-esteem, helps to improve your concentration, and makes you look and feel better. Furthermore, leading an active life can help to improve your feelings of self-worth and lift your confidence.

Enloe Behavioral Health’s Medical Director and Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Nichols adds, “For some people who suffer from depression symptoms, exercise is as effective of a treatment as medications such as antidepressants.”

How Do I Get Started? Hint: Make It Fun!

Dr. Nichols points out that unless exercise is associated with something meaningful and enjoyable, we are unlikely to do it. Your routine does not have to include traditional exercises like jogging on a treadmill or lifting weights in order to qualify as actual physical activity.

Think about the activities that you really love to do, perhaps: walking outside and talking with a friend, fixing a trail at the park, going sailing or canoeing, or even getting out in the backyard and chasing your dog around. These are all examples of ways we can physically stimulate our bodies and positively affect our minds.

Feeling Better in So Many Ways

Staying active is the best way to engage your brain and keep your endorphins flowing. The Journal of Psychiatry says the health benefits you may see as a result of consistent exercise are better sleep, more interest in physical romance, stress relief, improvement in mood, reduced tiredness, increased alertness, weight loss, and reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular function.

Enloe Behavioral Health, the only voluntary inpatient psychiatric facility in Northern California, promotes these very physical activities in its occupational therapy groups, as well as an on-unit workout center. 

Enloe Occupational Therapist Patty Principi incorporates deep breathing, stretching, coordination activities, proper posture and yoga into the daily movement groups.

“Breathing is the most important tool that any person can have,” she says. “Learning how to practice diaphragmatic breathing -- deep breathing from diaphragm -- can help you relax and deal with stress."

How Much is Enough? A Little Goes A Long Way

The important thing to remember is something is better than nothing.

“You shouldn’t feel obligated to have a certain goal in mind. Start small with a walk around the block. As you see results and feel the positive effects of your work, you’ll want to increase your goal,” said Dr. Nichols.

Thirty minutes of physical activity five days per week is recommended by the American Heart Association. See how this works for you. Thirty minutes be broken up into three 10-minute sessions, or two 15-minute sessions. Be creative, and make it fun!

When Exercise Isn’t Enough

While exercising can make a positive difference in our mental and physical wellbeing, sometimes it’s not enough. Talk or cognitive therapy, medication, or other options may be needed to get the right healthy balance.

If life at home or work has become overwhelming, it’s important to ask for help. Ask early. One does not have to be in crisis first. In fact, the sooner you reach out, the easier it will be for you to begin healing.

Enloe Behavioral Health is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and we offer free assessments. Our staff is made up of psychiatrists, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, registered nurses and mental health workers.  Please call (530) 332-5250 or (800) 560-5900 to schedule a complimentary assessment, or simply walk in at 560 Cohasset Road, Chico, Calif.

Enloe Behavioral Health

(530) 332-5250  |   Toll-free (800) 560-5900 | Contact Us Online  |  Map

Hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Visiting Hours: 6-7:15 p.m. | All visitors must have a confidentiality code from a patient prior to visiting.


  • video-img

    Drs. Voelker and Lobosky honored with 2014 Physician Legacy Award

  • video-img

    Drs. Voelker and Lobosky honored with 2014 Physician Legacy Award

  • video-img

    Drs. Voelker and Lobosky honored with 2014 Physician Legacy Award

  • video-img

    Drs. Voelker and Lobosky honored with 2014 Physician Legacy Award

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