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Depression and Exercise

Written by sshowalter, ColleenO, maria_rn.

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Exercise can help relieve depression symptoms and related issues such as anxiety and stress. It can be helpful even in minor doses. Or in conjunction with medication or psychotherapy, exercise can improve depression symptoms. The tricky dynamic occurs when due to depression, you don't feel in the mood for exercise. Even small amounts of exercise can be very helpful in alleviating symptoms and preventing a relapse.

Effect of Exercise on Depression

Exercise can raise mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain resulting in an improved mood and outlook. Exercise may also depression by triggering the release of endorphins, which are commonly associated with a "feel good" effect in addition to inducing relaxation and ensuring sounder sleep.

Exercise also help to reduce levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Along with reducing stress, exercise can improve such symptoms as anxiety, irritability, fatigure, anger and hopelessness. It can you get rid of built-up stress and frustration which can lead to depression.

Exercise can create a sense of well-being by increasing your sense of control over your condition, your self-esteem, and by providing a distraction from your depressed mental state.

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Research Evidence on Exercise

Research suggests that at least 30 minutes of exercise a day for at least 3 to 5 days a week can significantly improve symptoms associated with mild to moderate depression. Even small does of exercise can improve mood in the short term.

How to Use Exercise

Exercise can range from walking to exercise. It is important to pick an exercise routine that you can adhere to over a long term. The goal of exercise should not weight loss but rather a state of well-being that can be produced with exercise.

In order to receive maximal benefits, its important that you exercise at least 30 minutes a day for at least 3 to 5 days a week. Even small amounts of exercise can be beneficial. The key is to engage in some form of exercise that promotes movement and engaging your body.

It is important to pick a type of exercise and durations that are compatible with your physical health. If you have a serious health condition, consult with your physician before starting an exercise program.

A health condition or injury may prevent you from engaging in certain types of exercise such as jogging or bike riding but walking. Gentler forms of movement such as stretching or yoga may still be safe and beneficial options.


1 Mead GE, et al. Exercise for Depression. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2009


3 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington. The longitudinal effects of depression on physical activity. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2009

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