You probably don’t want or need to be hit over the head with any more lines about prescribing exercise to battle depression. You know, and so does everybody else, that regular physical exercise can be a key in fighting diagnosed depression. Getting your heart rate up forces the body to release feel-good endorphins, the natural cannabis-like brain chemicals that simply perk you up a bit. You’re also focusing on the task at hand, which naturally doesn’t allow your mind to wander into whatever despair may be bringing you down…and so on.
Again, you’ve probably already heard these things. None of which tackle the biggest crux of them at all which is mustering up the motivation and desire to get active in the first place. Most likely, clinical depression has taken away the desire to even make that first step in getting active in the first place, leaving you right where you started to begin with. But let’s just say you do have the motivation to get going. Is it possible that one form of exercise might be better than the rest when it comes to beating depression?
Researchers are focusing a good deal of their attention on what’s called High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, as a possible class of exercise that can positively influence your brain just as much as it does your body. It’s a cardiovascular strategy in which short periods of anaerobic exercise are alternated with short periods of rest. From a physiological perspective, the body is essentially shocked over and over again with the high-intensity action while the short recovery gives your body just enough space and time to get ready to go again. It’s known for its effectiveness and efficiency in getting a great deal of work done as far as that calorie burn is concerned, without requiring a great deal of time to complete. While there’s no set rule of thumb for how long a HIIT workout can or must last, a person is generally able to complete a strenuous and effective workout in around 30 minutes, always able to move at their own pace throughout.
According to Øivind Rognmo, who spoke at a TEDX conference about this particular type of exercise, “Physical inactivity is the major risk factor for lifestyle diseases around the globe,” killing as many people each year as smoking.
One recent resistance training study, for example, found that men who lifted weights for 14 weeks had not only enhanced their physical strength but also their neural drive, the ability to send electrical signals from brain to muscle. Resistance training has also been found to decrease anxiety, boost memory and cognition, and reduce fatigue. Essentially, resistance training strengthens your brain as much as it does your body.
Meanwhile, endurance training relies on your lungs to supply you with energy as you work out. This boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a powerful protein that speeds up learning, increases memory, protects your brain from damage and promotes neurogenesis. It’s also associated with “runner’s high,” a noted effect of endorphins giving you a second wind during intense, long workouts. In all, the effects of this type of exercise have been found to increase your creativity and happiness overall.
Now HIIT, in particular, is simply the brain and body’s happy medium between resistance training and endurance training, offering the benefits science has found in both types of exercise.