Can exercise make you depressed?

Can exercise make you depressed?

Personal trainer Izzie Knolles gives us her first hand experience of emotional difficulties caused by exercise, and some tips on how to avoid them.
Woman jogging (image © Rex Features)
I hadn’t exercised for a whole month, which is totally unheard of for me, a lover of sport and a qualified personal trainer. However, due to health (acidic tummy upset) and holiday reasons (lying by the pool and on the beach eating and drinking), a month without sport slipped me by.
I was very excited yesterday as my new regime kicked in and I made a pact to lose half a stone in the next two months before my next trip away, by exercising and ‘watching’ what I ate.
However, something unprecedented and bizarre took place. My day began with porridge, a pretty hard weight training session in the gym and a two mile dog walk before work. I had a chicken salad for lunch, a 4 mile run after work followed by turkey mince moussaka.
I then spent the rest of the evening in tears, emotional, depressed and very confused. I couldn’t sleep, all night I was tossing and turning not the usual, post exercise deep sleep I have been accustomed to.
I have always received a massive high from exercise, enjoyed the endorphin rush and felt better physically and mentally about myself afterwards, so as you can imagine I was shocked to discover that exercise does and can make some people depressed.
Don’t panic though, there is a reason for this and it is not an excuse to bin the trainers and pick up a chocolate bar.
Balance it out
There is a simple equation when it comes to losing weight, expend more then you consume but there are more key factors here too which I didn’t adhere too yesterday when I started my ‘new regime’.
When you exercise your body loses vital minerals and salts that need to be replaced, exercise lowers your blood sugar levels and subsequently can make you feel “depressed” or irritable. It is very important to eat right and drink a lot of water.
Some people need to eat before, right after, and drink water while exercising. It has been known that exercise-induced low blood sugar could occur up to a day later.
Gently does it
I also made a mistake in thinking that I could pick up my exercise regime where I had left it. After having had a four week break my fitness levels had dropped, not completely but still enough to make a marked difference to my performance in weight training and running.
A 40-minute 10K runner could expect to slow down by about 1 to 2 minutes after a 3 week break. The idea when you have had a break from exercise is to ease yourself back in gently so as to not cause your emotional and physical body undue stress.
Remember when you are back into the swing of things again to have rest days; they are vital to your exercise as your muscles need time to heal and your body to rebalance itself after such a massive loss of fluids.  
When you exercise strenuously the first thing your body craves is glucose to replace what has been used during the workout. Your brain can only use glucose as energy, not as fats or proteins, so if you are not replenishing your stores it will affect your moods.
You could try drinking a sports shake immediately after the workout, the protein/carbohydrate kind like Muscle Milk, but be careful with this as excess protein turns into fat.
Let it all out
Also, it is important to remember that when we exercise, we are releasing a lot of past tension and emotions. We are actually cleansing our body of built up pain and anxieties from possibly years ago.
This may involve crying and a grieving process, it is important to allow yourself to feel this and accept the feelings that are passing through ourselves, it is the stress hormone produced from exercise that is making us feel this way.
Cortisol is a hormone that the body produces when under stress; adrenal burnout can cause the raise of this hormone, such as after a long run. Don’t worry about it (worry causes stress too). Cortisol is great stuff to have during exercise but if levels continue to stay high it delays the healing and growth your body needs.
It can take a couple days for the cortisol level in the blood to get back to normal. Different people have different recovery times so be aware of this and get to know your body’s cycles.
The problem is running too often without proper rest. Overtraining places stress on the body, if you do not rest adequately between sessions, the level of cortisol can stay high for a long time, some symptoms of overtraining are sunken look around the eyes, poor sleep patterns, lack of motivation, irritability and depressed feelings.
A friend recommended that I try holy basil for my after exercise downer, it has been said that the basil leaves reduce stress, it purifies the blood and helps prevent several common elements. I’m going to give it a try, so watch this space…!

~ by tuscanystone on October 13, 2008.

2 Responses to “Can exercise make you depressed?”

  1. “and drink a lot of water” can I get an Amen and an I told you so? Hallelujah sister!


    Chromium also helps to balance cortisol levels. If you are taking a mult, check from Chromium.

    Great article though. Thanks for posting it.

    The thing about basil is cool. All herbs are amazingly good for you. They have the highest antioxidant levels of all foods. Use them liberally. I use oregano and turmeric in my scrambled eggs.

  2. Urgh Arnie, I can’t imagine eggs with anything other than salt n pepper!! lol I usually just use herbs and spices on meats. Do you ever eat proper meat? Like lamb steaks or steak? what about fresh fish? Like salmon or halibut or sole?

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