Depression and Exercise

Many people have the idea that exercise is helpful in dealing with depression. But they may not know what kind of exercise or how much will prove most fruitful. This article will review what is known about the relationship between exercise and depression.

What Is Exercise?

First, it is important to understand does not require a leotard, a gym membership, an instructor, or a closetful of fitness equipment - although it can use these things, as appropriate. Exercise programs can be built around walking, hiking, biking, household chores (yes, scrubbing the floor and vacuuming count as exercise), outdoor chores (washing the car, raking the lawn, shoveling the front walkway), and dancing, as well as participating in athletic activities, such as golf, swimming, tennis, basketball, weightlifting. Some workplaces have developed exercises that use their stairways: employees may spend a part of their lunch hour doing a planned program of exercise that involves climbing and descending the stairs.

Important Considerations When Beginning an Exercise Program

The first important thing to know is that you should check with your doctor if you are beginning an exercise program and you have any serious illness or health risks, or if you are moving from a very sedentary life to a more active life or if you are over the age of 50.

Experts urge that the regularity of exercise is important, even if the time is limited. That means that if one day you can’t do 30 minutes, you should still do the 5 or 10 minutes that you can do, not scuttle the whole thing.  In addition, if you can’t do your planned activity - perhaps because of inclement weather, having an indoor back-up plan (Yoga? Aerobics? Stationary bike?) can help getting prevent external circumstances from getting you out of the exercise habit. In addition, a few minutes here and there can add up, so you don’t have to adopt the mindset of doing all your exercise at once, if that plan doesn’t work.

How Does Exercise Help With Depression?

Exercise helps depression both directly and indirectly. Studies since 1981 have shown that exercise undertaken regularly can improve the mood of people who have mild to moderate depression. There has not (yet) been a definition of exactly how much or how often or how hard one must exercise in order to alleviate the symptoms of depression, but experts generally advise thirty minutes a day on most days as a healthy choice.

Depending on your situation, it may address not only symptoms, but also causes and risk factors.


  • Exercise releases neurotransmitters and endorphins, which is what some antidepressants do. This may directly reduce depression, and without the risk of addiction.
  • Exercise typically raises body temperature, which may be calming.
  • Carrying out an exercise program can improve a depressed person’s health and weight, giving him or her one less thing to be depressed about and increasing self-esteem.
  • Carrying out an exercise program also can give a depressed person the feeling of regaining some control over his or her life. This, in turn, may reduce the inclination to turn to alcohol or drugs to try to forget one’s situation and difficulties.

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Exercise can break the cycle of negative thoughts that is typical of depression.
  • Exercise can reduce the chemicals of the immune system, which can worsen depression.
  • Exercise can lead to more social interaction, helping to improve mood, whether by joining a gym, engaging in a team sport, or finding a jogging buddy.

Some of these factors may prove to be preventative as well. A 1999 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that a regimen of regular exercise following an episode of depression made people less likely to relapse. Also, having a social

In addition, exercising regularly offers other benefits including the possibility of lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.  Exercising also strengthens the heart, may improve sleep, and may boost energy levels.


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