Depression is no easy thing to beat. However, its symptoms can be relaxed when we take the necessary actions such as exercise. It might seem like the last thing on your mind, but staying active can make what feels like a mammoth, uphill battle easier to navigate.

But how exactly does staying active fight depression? Here are some scientific reasons working out can help.

It can be an alternative to drug treatment

In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it was concluded that those who took part in exercise programs such aerobics (while either taking or not taking Zoloft), showed signs of mental improvement within 16 weeks. Up to 70% of the study’s sample were no longer classified as having major depressive disorder. What’s of most interest in this study is that the authors believed that exercise was an alternative for those who wanted to avoid drugs such as anti-depressants.

The effects last longer than medication

Another study, which acted as a follow up to the above mentioned study, also found that the effects of exercising lasted longer than drug treatment. What the study found was that those who continued working out even after the initial study had a lower chance of relapsing.

It keeps you healthy

People suffering from depression sometimes have the poorest health, and a life expectancy of 11 years if the depression is recurring. This may be due to lack of proper self-care, or substandard medical treatment. What’s more, people who suffer from depression are at risk of substances abuse such as alcohol and drugs, which greatly impact their health. As these are unhealthy habits, exercise together with quitting the habit can increase the patient’s physical health, wellbeing and even life-expectancy.

It’s as easy as a walk in the park

Those who may dread going to the gym or having to do a tight regimen need not worry. While it is recommended that you need to exercise, a 2005 study also concluded that 35 minutes of intense walking for five days could help with moderate depression.  This was for someone who weighs 150 pounds, so people who weigh more would have to increase the time spent on (or the intensity of) walking.

You also sleep better

People who suffer from depression are also known to have sleeping disorders. The relationship is not clear cut, but scientists now believe that sleep disorders can result in depression and vice-versa. In the journal of Mental Health and Physical Activity it was found that those who work out for at least 150 minutes a week reduced their daytime sleepiness by 65%, which was a result of them enjoying more time sleeping. As a result of working out, you sleep longer, which can have a positive impact on your emotions and perception during the day.

But what’s the science behind it all?

Scientifically speaking, the brain releases endorphins when you exercise. As you work out, these feel-good chemicals begin to circulate within your body. As a result, your energy is revitalised and your mood improves. What’s more, the act also reduces blood pressure and calories, which can contribute significantly to depression if not managed properly.

It must be said, however, that exercise alone can’t cure depression. The condition requires many steps in order to be managed. This includes therapeutic treatment, which can range from counselling and drug treatment. Changing your diet can also make treatment more effective.

If you’re unsure of what the best step to follow is, talk to a professional doctor or therapist.  



American Psychological Association

Prim Care Companion J Clin Pyschiatry

Mental Health and Physical Activity