Can exercise help relieve depression?

Being active can help keep away the symptoms of major depression. If sleep problems or low energy interfere with your desire to be active, remind yourself that exercise is a fast-acting form of relief that can give your mood and self-esteem a boost. Being physically active boosts blood flow to your brain and moderates your brain chemical balance, upping levels of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins (three feel-good hormones) while reducing stress hormone levels. If you're new to exercise, take it slow. Set a doable goal, such as a short walk. Exercise outdoors if possible -- especially if you're stressed -- or try simple yoga poses. Don't beat yourself up if you can't do long or vigorous exercise at first. As you can, slowly add time and intensity to your workout.
Eric Olsen
The idea that exercise can ease depression is gaining increasing acceptance. A variety of studies of exercise and mood over the years have looked at the therapeutic effects of exercise on depressed patients and concluded that:  
  • exercise is a better antidepressant than relaxation or other enjoyable activities are;
  • exercise is as effective in decreasing depression as psychotherapy is;
  • anaerobic exercise (for example, weight training, sprinting) is as potent an antidepressant as aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, and so on) is; and
  • exercise and psychotherapy together are more effective than exercise alone.
Considering how pervasive a problem depression has become in this country, a cheap and effective therapy could have an enormous impact on the nation’s health. And exercise is, above all, cheap. Even with the most expensive jogging togs, a personal trainer, and a basement full of treadmills, weight machines, and exercise bikes, exercise is still cheaper than hospitalization, regular doses of antidepressants, or a course of weekly sessions with a therapist.

Although not every depressed patient can afford a $150-an-hour Freudian, everyone can afford a brisk walk around the block. Not everyone has time to spend stretched out on a therapist’s couch, but just about anyone can squeeze in a few laps around the neighborhood or a few laps in the local pool. With exercise therapy, the depressed can treat themselves with a minimum of preparation and information. And finally, unlike many antidepressant medications, exercise has positive side effects, not harmful ones.
Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

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Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

An easy-to-follow programme for lengthening and improving lives. More than an exercise guide, this text is an effective tool for making meaningful lifestyle decisions to benefit long-term fitness. In...
Kelly Traver
Internal Medicine
Just like antidepressants, exercise raises serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. Exercise has a tremendous influence on your brain chemicals and your mood. A study showed that exercise was better than Zoloft, an antidepressant, in lifting mood and treating depression in the long term. There are times when medication is not only appropriate but also beneficial for treating mood.

People tend to look for the easier way out when it comes to most things, and it is certainly easier to swallow a pill than go out for a run. You do not, however, get all of the benefits from a pill those you would get if you took the extra time and energy to exercise. If you do take medication for your mood, exercise will make things much better. It will help lift your mood, raise your level of neurotransmitters, boost your BDNF level, stimulate brain growth, and speed remission while preventing future relapses. An increase in BDNF from exercise will help you increase the areas of higher thinking in your frontal cortex so that you can better control aberrant moods and thoughts.
Exercise can be very beneficial in treating depression. In particular, aerobic exercise may help the brain make new brain cells to treat depression. In this video, Tarique Perera, MD, a psychiatrist with Contemporary Care of Connecticut, explains.
Sudeepta Varma, MD
Exercise has many important benefits for the treatment of depression; it has many positive impacts on both our physical and mental health. Watch as I discuss why exercise is an important tool in fighting depression.
Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
In a landmark study out of Duke University, Blumenthal and colleagues tested the idea that exercise was as effective as antidepressants for treating depression. The subjects either received antidepressant medication alone, exercise alone, or a combination of both. The depression of all three groups improved significantly, and the researchers concluded that exercise was as effective as medication in the treatment of depression and continued to be effective for more than six months.

The jury is still out as to the complete pathway between the body and mood. The body-bliss connection has to do not only with the chemicals released during activity but the chemical and physical pathways they travel in the brain. While scientists work hard to figure it all out, my advice -- and the advice of many other experts -- is just give it a try. Feeling good is just down the road.
Dr. Vonda Wright's Guide to Thrive: 4 Steps to Body, Brains, and Bliss

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Dr. Vonda Wright's Guide to Thrive: 4 Steps to Body, Brains, and Bliss

Dr. Wright unfolds her Guide to Thrive by preparing readers for six remarkable months of body, brains, and bliss transformation, using her framework of the four practical steps. As a scientist and...
A number of studies show that exercise can reduce depression -- either as an alternative to other types of treatment, or in addition to them. And you don't have to be a runner or gym fanatic to reap the benefit. You can achieve positive mood effects from far less strenuous physical activities. Adding mild movement to a sedentary life can reduce your depressive symptoms even if your fitness level remains unchanged. What's more, physical activity lessens depression regardless of your pre-existing health conditions and may insulate you against future depressive symptoms.
Research out of Duke Medical Center found that regular exercise can be just as effective as medicine in treating some of the symptoms of depression. Individuals were divided into four groups: group-based exercise therapy, home-based exercise, antidepressant medication, and a placebo group. When assessed, the exercise therapy group did just as well as the medication group, and the home-based exercise group saw improvement as well, though to a lesser extent. All three treatment groups did better than the placebo group.
John Preston, PsyD
Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to help alleviate mild to moderate depression, as well as problems such as anxiety, insomnia and low self-esteem. As we all know, getting regular exercise helps to keep you physically healthy and fit, which in turn can help you feel better about yourself and your life. Often, however, people with depression feel lethargic and unmotivated to stay physically active, even though exercise can be tremendously helpful in improving depression.
Depression 101: A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and Preventing Relapse

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Depression 101: A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and Preventing Relapse

When you have depression, it can feel like there's no way out. To begin changing the way you feel, you'll need an arsenal of proven techniques for lifting your mood and preventing relapse. The...
Dr. Kathleen Hall
Preventive Medicine
Researchers at Duke University showed that regular exercise relieves major depression just as effectively as antidepressant medication. Dr. James Blumenthal's research shows that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week is sufficient for reducing the symptoms of depression. In his study of 10 months, exercise was a significant predictor of depression levels. People who engaged in 50 minutes of exercise a week had a 50 percent decrease in the likelihood of being depressed. Exercise releases "happy chemicals" into the body such as endorphins and serotonin. Exercise also helps regulate dopamine production, the neurotransmitter that helps cells communicate with each other.
A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness

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A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness

Nautilus Book Awards Winners for 2007 (category: Self-Help/Psychology/ Personal Growth) "Like many people, Kathleen Hall found that despite great success and material wealth, she had yet to identify...

Continue Learning about Depression Treatment

Depression Treatment

Depression Treatment

Because it is a multi-faceted condition, treatment for depression is multi-faceted as well. Minor depression can often be treated with therapy and a few simple lifestyle changes, while chronic or major depression treatment can req...

uire medication in addition to therapy. In some severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used. It's important to work with your mental health professional to determine which course of treatment for your type of depression is most appropriate.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.