Studies have consistently shown that physical activity can help treat depression, and on the flipside, that low activity levels are a big risk factor for it. The antidepressant effect of exercise seems to be moderated in part through serotonin, the brain chemical that’s targeted with some antidepressants, and in part through bone-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). And this goes back to the generation of new cells mentioned earlier—exercise, though various mechanisms, seems to make the brain more plastic and more capable of growing new cells.
Bend your knees to lower down into a split squat. Your left knee should ideally form a 90-degree angle so that your thigh is parallel to the ground, and your right knee is hovering above the floor. (Quick position check: your left foot should be stepped out far enough that you can do this without letting your left knee go past your left toes—if you can't, hop your left foot out a bit farther away from the bench.)
Quick Q&A: Which is better at relieving anxiety — a warm bubble bath or a 20-minute jog? You might be surprised at the answer. The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Hopping on the track or treadmill for some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (intervals, anyone?) can reduce anxiety sensitivity Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity. Broman-Fulks JJ, Berman ME, Rabian BA, Webster MJ. Department of Psychology, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, USA. Behavior Research and Therapy. 2004 February;42(2):125-36. Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM. Department of Family Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. 2011;41(1):15-28.. And we thought intervals were just a good way to burn calories!
This is a particularly cool one. Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—which partly makes sense, since we need our brains to be relatively stable over time, to keep our memories intact and to keep us us. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It's also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
In an ideal world, we’d all have plenty of time to head to the gym and work out whenever we please and check every other task off our to-do lists in the meantime. In reality? Sometimes all you have time for is a quick workout at home that you can do without equipment. The good news is that there actually are plenty of ways to squeeze a solid no-equipment workout into a short amount of time.
You're adding lean muscle. If you did a strength-training routine, your muscles are now starting to rebuild themselves and repair the microscopic tears that come with lifting weights, says Paul Gordon, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Physical Activity at the University of Michigan School of Medicine in Ann Arbor. Preliminary research shows that women respond to and recover from resistance training faster than men.
Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, approximately hip-width distance apart. Lift the left leg up so that the leg is straight and the thighs are parallel. As you exhale, keep the core engaged and lift the hips off the floor. Hold for one to two seconds, and slowly lower down to starting position. Complete 10 to 12 reps on the right side before switching to the left.
“Push-ups are a great exercise that can be done regressively or progressively. Adding things like shoulder taps, mountain climbers, or even negatives are great ways to add more effectiveness to push-ups done without weight,” explained Septh. Similarly, Barajas mentioned a change simple as switching up your hand placements (wide, narrow, etc.) will work different parts of the muscles.
Stand with your feet placed shoulder width apart and arms extend straight to your sides, raised at shoulder height. Now, do 50 small circles with your hands by rotating them in the forward direction. Then switch to 50 small backward circles. The backward and forward arm movement tones all the muscles of the arms including the triceps, biceps, shoulders and back muscles as well.
For those sticklers who object to this regimen as a violation of the no-equipment stipulation—what are you, trapped in a shipping container?—Okafor has a go-to airport circuit, too, no chair required: four rounds of 20 squats, 20 lunges (with each leg), and 30 bicycle crunches. Maybe you're thinking: the airport? But don't people give you weird looks? "Of course," Okafor says. "But they're usually out of shape." Spoken like a man who isn't one bit afraid to curl a chair with a towel.
Do triangle pushups. Triangle pushups will build your shoulder and chest muscles while helping you burn calories. On an exercise mat, get into the traditional pushup position with arms shoulder-width and extended to prop up your upper body. Move your hands inwards to create a triangle under your chest, with your index fingers meeting at the top and your thumbs closing the shape at the bottom. Lower yourself almost all the way to the ground, then push yourself back up.
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.