Exercise and Depression: How Physical Activity at Work Can Help

If you’re suffering from depression while at work, incorporating some simple exercises into your workday can help. Moderate exercise can help with depression, and you can start your exercise practice with a few desk pushups or chair crunches, or a lunchtime walk. We’ll also talk about a few exercises you can do at your desk with no one knowing. 

What are the Benefits of Exercise for Those with Depression?

There is a link between depression and exercise. Exercise is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. Studies have shown it is impactful enough to lower patients’ need for medication. Exercise and other treatments like psychotherapy appear to produce better results when combined. Exercise is considered a safe treatment for those patients who need to avoid medication, like pregnant women and children. 

When you exercise, your body makes chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins act on the receptors in your brain that feel pain and create positive feelings. Endorphins act similarly to the pain medication, morphine, however, they are completely safe. These chemicals are what lead to phenomena like “runner’s high” or the happy, relaxed state you find after an intense workout. Endorphins can also sedate, or relax, the body and they are made in your nervous system (brain, spinal cord). In addition to lessening depression symptoms, exercise has been shown to:

  1. Decrease stress, which can be a contributing factor to depression.
  2. Decrease feelings of anxiety.
  3. Increase sleep quality.

Are There Types of Exercise that Work Best for Depression?

Any kind of moderate exercise will help with depression. The type of exercise that will work best for your depression is one that you want to do…at least enough to do it. If running isn’t your thing, try yoga or another group fitness class. (Tip-social support is important for those suffering from depression, so a group class might be helpful in that area.) Or, if you positively hate regular exercise, consider activities like dancing, heavy gardening/yard work, or deep cleaning your house (sweeping/vacuuming and mopping are good physical activities). Try for 20 minutes 3 times a week, and as you’re able to, increase your time from 20 minutes to 30, and add a day of exercise. 

Integrating Exercise at Work

Now that you know about the connection between exercise and depression, what’s next? An easy way to start is with a few minutes of exercise done during the day at work. This is going to be especially helpful if you’re feeling depressed at work. There are many ways you might be able to include some exercise into your workday. Here are a few ideas.

Walk whenever possible.

If you have a question for a co-worker, consider walking over to them and asking versus sending an email. Doing this a few times a day will increase circulation and get your steps up. Also, consider using part of your lunch break (or other breaks) to take a 10-20 minute walk outside. Or, if the weather is inclement, try walking around the office. 

Stand while you’re on the phone.

Use your headset and stand during phone calls. You could take this time to do some squats or stretches.

Suggest walking meetings.

Walking meetings are becoming quite popular since they encourage movement for the whole team. And it beats sitting around a conference room for an hour. 

Exercise from your desk chair.

There are a variety of exercises and stretches you can do at your desk, some of which are invisible to your co-workers or boss. 

  1. Workout your core while sitting in your chair. For an invisible core work out tighten your abs, hold for a count of 5, 10, or 15 seconds, then relax. You can do sets of as many as you like. Try sets of 2, 5, and 10. 
  2. Strengthen your glutes by clenching and holding your glutes tight for 5, 10, or 15 seconds. Repeat as many sets as you like. This is also invisible to officemates. 
  3. Work out your core more actively by doing crunches, crunch kicks, side to side knee to elbow swipes, elbow to knee crunches, leg raises, cycling style crunches, and twists while sitting. 
  4. Try desk push-ups. Check to see if your desk will hold your weight-this is very important. Put your hands on your desk while standing, then walk your feet backward until you’re in position. Try fifteen pushups. 

Exercise Wellness Challenges from BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS)

If you’re looking for ways to support your employees or team with their mental health, then consider doing a wellness challenge through BHS. Wellness challenges are fun and engaging ways to have a measurable impact on your employee’s health and workplace morale. Employees suffering from depression will benefit from a physical activity challenge and the comradery that comes from doing the challenge as a team. Doing a wellness challenge does more than get your employees moving-it creates a healthy work culture where a few minutes of exercise during the workday is supported as a way for employees to energize themselves and stay productive. Reach out to us today to get started.