Total fitness fights depression

Depression can impact your mood and performance, preventing you from doing your best at work, on a mission, and at home. A total fitness approach—including physical activity, proper nutrition, positive relationships with others, and mind-body skills—to overcoming depression can reduce feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness and lack of motivation or energy, so you can perform well on your mission.

It’s estimated that about 12% of deployed military personnel and 13% of those previously deployed meet the criteria for depression. And many more service members struggle with bouts of misery or restlessness. A total force fitness approach can help.

Exercise

Exercise is an effective complement to depression treatment. Those who are more physically active tend to experience fewer depression symptoms. Exercise coupled with medication has been shown to improve symptoms as well. Tip: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous, intense aerobic activity for 3–5 days each week.

Consider adding yoga to your fitness routine too. It’s an effective intervention for depression that benefits your physical and emotional health. Try these yoga routines to calm, balance, and challenge your mind and body.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition helps your brain function well, especially as it relates to the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) that might be associated with depression. The production of neurotransmitters depends upon certain nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are found in whole grains, cheese, yogurt, dried beans, and vegetables. The jury’s still out on whether Omega-3, folate, and zinc can improve depression symptoms. However, eating more fish could bring some relief.

Eating a diet high in processed foods and fast foods is linked to higher rates of depression and drinking alcohol also has a depressive effect. Try to eat well-balanced meals in addition to the medication or psychotherapy you might receive for depression. 

Relationships

Those struggling with depression tend to have less contact and fewer satisfying relationships with family and friends. In addition, poor relationships with your partner and loved ones increase your risk of depression. However, support from family, friends, and coworkers can help you cope with future stress and combat loneliness. Relationships built on belongingness and mutual support can reduce feelings of sadness and helplessness. Build kindness, trust, and good communication with family and friends to strengthen your relationships and help them last.

Mind-body skills

While depression is more than just sadness, it can have a profound impact on your emotional health and thoughts. Mental fitness skills can be effective complements to depression treatment that might speed up recovery times. Mindfulness-based techniques paired with cognitive therapy also can bring some relief. Practicing meditation can relieve symptoms and counteract or prevent the physiological causes of depression too. Training your brain to practice optimism can challenge unproductive thought patterns. Mind/body approaches also can be an important part of supporting mental health and well-being for those who want to feel better.

Debrief

A total fitness approach to overcoming depression incorporates exercise, nutrition, relationships, and mind-body skills. And remember, when combating depression, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional, especially if you are in crisis. If you feel you're experiencing a potentially life-threatening problem, contact the Military Crisis Line online or call 800-273-8255 and press “1,” or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by phone at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE) also has a 24/7 Psychological Health Resource Center featuring a hotline, email, chat, and phone number. And visit HPRC’s Mental Health page. In an emergency, please dial 911.