Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and a negative outlook on life. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of negative emotional and physical problems. Although depression symptoms can be overwhelming, there are things you can do to help yourself feel better.
Diet and exercise are two simple yet effective ways to manage depression. Making small changes in your diet and increasing your physical activity can have a big impact on your mood and overall health. Let’s take a closer look at how diet and exercise can help relieve symptoms of depression.
How Diet Can Help Depression
What you eat has a direct effect on your mood and energy levels. Eating a healthy diet can help improve your mental well-being just as much as it supports your physical health. When you have depression, it’s important to eat nutrient-rich foods that will give you the energy you need to get through the day. Here are a few specific ways that diet can help relieve symptoms of depression:
- Improved Brain Function
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as in flaxseeds, chia seeds, soybeans, and walnuts. These essential nutrients play an important role in brain function and can help reduce inflammation and cognitive decline associated with depression.
Other nutrients that are important for healthy brain functions and can be found in your diet include zinc, magnesium, selenium, iron, vitamin D, and B vitamins. You can find these nutrients in a variety of foods such as whole grains, leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and animal products.
- Reduced Oxidative Stress
Antioxidants are nutrients that protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress, which has been linked to depression. Foods rich in antioxidants include fruits (especially berries), vegetables (such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts), nuts (like walnuts), seeds (such as flaxseeds), dark chocolate, tea, and coffee.
- Neurotransmitter Synthesis
Tryptophan is an amino acid that your body needs to make serotonin—a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood. Tryptophan is found in poultry, eggs, dairy products, tofu, soybeans, lentils, beans, nuts (especially pistachios), seeds (especially pumpkin), dark chocolate, bananas, pineapples, and avocados.
Folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, also helps trigger the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and can be found in leafy green vegetables (such as spinach and kale), legumes (such as black beans and lentils), fruits (such as oranges and bananas), nuts (such as peanuts), and fortified foods (such as breakfast cereals).
- Improved Gut Health
Good gut health has been linked to improved mental health and vice versa. A good diet can help promote probiotics or the live bacteria responsible for a healthy gut. Foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and pickled vegetables
In a nutshell, eating nutrient-rich foods helps reduce inflammation, support brain function, lower oxidative stress, increase energy levels, improve gut health, and promote overall wellness — all of which can have a positive impact on depression symptoms.
How Exercise Can Help Depression
Exercise is another very effective way to manage depression. Exercise releases endorphins -chemicals that improve mood – and has many other benefits for mental health and well-being. Regular exercise can:
- Improve sleep quality
- Increase energy levels and improve physical wellbeing
- Reduced stress
- Provides distraction from negative thoughts
- Boosts self-esteem
- Give you a sense of accomplishment
Incorporating moderate exercises, say 30 minutes of exercise per day for at least five days a week, can make a huge difference in your mental health. Whether it’s walking, biking, swimming, running, jogging, or yoga, find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, a healthy diet and regular exercise are both important for managing depression and can be a great way to complement conventional treatments like therapy and medication. The secret is to find what works for you and make it a part of your daily routine.