Can Exercise Relieve Depression?

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There’s solid proof that exercise can work as well as medication, psychotherapy or both to relieve depression.

Research shows that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication — but without the side effects, of course. For some people, it works as well as psychotherapy.

There are a number of theories about why exercise relieves depression. It boosts feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that foster relaxation and ease tension, and it may also have long-term benefits for brain function.

Exercise also has an indirect effect by improving sleep, self-image, and confidence, and by helping social connections, all of which are important to mental health.

What Is Depression?

Depression is more than just feeling sad. This type of depression is known as clinical, or major, depression. It can leave you feeling hopeless and unable to cope with daily life. Many people don’t realize that they are depressed. They may say they feel tired or that nothing seems fun or interesting anymore.

Depression is a serious illness affecting the mind, body, and thought patterns. It affects the way someone eats and sleeps, their feelings and thoughts, the way they think about themselves, and the way they think about things.

Depression changes how a person feels about everything. Sometimes people feel so sad that they cannot do anything for themselves or for others.

Depression is not a sign of weakness or something that can be wished away — it’s a medical condition that may be caused by many factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and stressful life events.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or anxious all the time
  • Feeling hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Loss of weight or no appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Problems concentrating or making decisions
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Depression is a tricky thing. It’s the go-to joke for people who know they’re being whiny, it’s the “I can’t be bothered to get out of bed for two weeks” disorder, and it’s the reason a lot of us can only watch Netflix on weekends.

Depression is also incredibly common in our society. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 16 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2015. That represents 6.7% of all U.S. adults over age 18 — and that doesn’t even include people who have milder forms of depression or those who aren’t diagnosed with it at all.

Depression And Exercise

One of the most challenging aspects of living with depression is that sometimes it can be difficult to find the motivation to do anything at all, let alone something as challenging as exercise. Yet, when you’re feeling depressed, getting your blood pumping may be just the thing you need to feel better.

Exercise is a powerful tool for combating depression. And there’s no requirement that exercise be rigorous or time-consuming in order to enjoy the benefits. Just 15 minutes a day of walking or biking can significantly reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.

One study says that people should ditch the drugs and start the exercise.

A three-month exercise routine can be as effective as medication for easing mild to moderate depression, the new study finds.

And those who combine exercise with therapy do even better, researchers report in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“We found that exercise is as good as antidepressants,” said lead researcher Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“The advantage of exercise is that it also has an impact on cardiovascular health,” he added. “People who exercised had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.”


Exercise is a natural and effective anti-depressant treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get more benefits if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

When you go for a walk or run, jog, swim, dance, or engage in other enjoyable activities, your brain releases the previously mentioned feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These are the body’s natural painkillers and they ease discomfort by reducing the perception of pain.

Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.

How Do I Exercise When Feeling Depressed?

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It’s well known that physical activity can benefit your mental health. But what if you don’t feel like exercising? If you’re suffering from depression, feeling unmotivated to move your body may be one of the symptoms.

Let’s be real: It feels very difficult to get up and go exercise when you’re feeling down in the dumps. But while it may sound counterintuitive, exercising when you’re depressed can actually help — and not just because it gives you something to do. Working out regularly can boost your mood, alleviate symptoms of depression, and make you feel better about your body image.

“Exercise is a complex intervention,” says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It changes a variety of things in your body.”

Studies have found that there are several ways in which exercise can improve your mental health. For example, research has shown that people who exercise have more self-esteem and feel better about their bodies — both of which are tied to depression.

Exercise also boosts serotonin levels and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders (which often coexist with depression). And finally, since some research suggests that depression is tied to inflammation, working out can decrease inflammatory responses in the body.

Here are some tips for how to exercise and get out of a mental rut:

  • Set realistic goals.
  • Move more. It doesn’t have to be a gym session or a run!
  • Find a buddy. Or bring your dog along for the exercise!
  • Be positive about it. Treat it as a treat, not a chore.
  • Get outside. The fresh air will do wonders for your mental health.

If you’re suffering from long-term depression, there’s no denying that exercise can be a major help. It’s a natural remedy that has absolutely no side effects, and it can do wonders for your mood and ability to enjoy life.

Regular exercise of any kind is great for your mental and physical health. But when you’re depressed, it’s particularly important to make the right choice of activity. You’ll want something that raises those feel-good endorphins and leaves you feeling energized and positive — not exhausted.

If you’re new to exercise or have been out of the game for a while, it’s worth considering finding an activity buddy. Exercising with a friend can be more fun, give you someone else to keep you accountable, and encourage healthy competition.

Can Exercise Really Boost My Mood?

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According to a study published in The Cochrane Library, aerobic activity can reduce symptoms of depression as effectively as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy, without any negative side effects.

The study included data from more than 30 previous studies involving 1,877 participants with mild to moderate depression. It found that the people who exercised had greater self-esteem and lower levels of fatigue compared with those who didn’t exercise. They also reported fewer feelings of depression and anxiety after four months of regular aerobic exercise.

One theory is that exercise triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Some of these are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine — which may help improve mood and reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

Another theory is that exercising makes people feel proud about their accomplishments and confident about their physical appearance (and thus less depressed) because they’re improving their health and fitness level.

Regardless of how it works, it’s clear that exercise has some mood-boosting properties.

Final Thoughts On Exercise And Depression

There is mounting evidence that exercise can help improve symptoms of depression, though there are many different hypotheses as to why this is. Regardless, research has shown that it is definitely worth considering if you struggle with depression.

An exercise therapy program has been found to be one of the most effective ways to help improve your mood and make you feel better. Exercise is a powerful tool that can help your body and mind in countless ways. If you’re ready to get started on feeling better, give Exerpy a try.

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Quinn is a professional, multi-faceted writer with a background and professional knowledge base that spans many industries. He goes above and beyond in everything he does and has an attitude and mindset of perseverance and dedication.

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