Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus Today: EXERCISE - A TREATMENT FOR DEPRESSION Take the Blues in Your Stride

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Byline: Miriam Stoppard

PHYSICAL activity can boost both physical and mental well-being and change your outlook on life. It could even prevent problems starting.

As I know from personal experience, regular physical activity can lift your mood, help you deal with negative emotions like anger, and bring you a general sense of mental well-being.

I've noticed that if I wake feeling a bit down, 30 minutes on my exercise bike cures the blues.

That's because exercise floods my body with hormones that reduce tension levels and feelings of stress or fatigue.

These changes happen straight after a session, particularly as I do six hill programmes. No wonder I'm addicted to it, I can't miss a day.

This kind of exercise can make a difference to anyone suffering anxiety, depression and low self esteem - and it has no side effects.

Self-image

STUDIES have shown that people feel better about themselves once they start an exercise programme.

Changes to body shape - as you begin to lose weight and feel your muscle tone getting better - improve your self-image which can boost mental well-being.

Exercise helps you to see just what you're capable of, giving you a sense of achievement. Learning a new skill or achieving a goal, however minor, boosts self-esteem and motivation.

Social life

JOINING a local group, going to classes at a gym or leisure centre, or cycling with a friend or relative, for example, can give you a way to meet and socialise. It gives you something in common and helps to break the ice.

If you'd prefer not to join in with others, there are many activities you can enjoy on your own, such as swimming or walking.

Health benefits

PEOPLE who are active have half the risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to those who aren't.

Regular exercise ameliorates common risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol.

KEEPING up an active lifestyle is good for bones, joints and muscles and can help to delay osteoporosis and arthritis.

It can significantly maintain and improve the strength and flexibility of your muscles, helping to prevent injury and reduce the risk of falling, allowing you to enjoy life to the full as you get older.

IT can also help control conditions such as diabetes and possibly reduce the risk of some cancers - in particular, bowel cancer.

Staying active

LATEST research on the longest living people in the world, the Okinawans living on islands between Japan and Taiwan, suggests that beneficial physical activity can simply mean everyday pottering - like gardening, cleaning and walking to catch a bus, as well as exercise such as cycling, swimming or working out, or playing sports such as football, golf or netball.

It doesn't necessarily mean an intensive work-out in the gym, but it does mean being active for 30 minutes at least five days a week. …