Benefits of Exercise Against Depression

Everyone knows that exercise is good for physical health. We’ve all heard that it can lower your chance of heart disease and diabetes and so on. And that’s great. Physical health is majorly important. This is the only body we have, right? But what if that wasn’t the only thing exercise did? What if MENTAL health could improve with exercise? If you can name a pill that helps both mental health and physical health, without major negative side effects, please let us know.


We’re not here today to talk about the effects of exercise to improve physical health (although it does, and that’s reason enough to go take a walk or go to the gym). We’re here to talk about the effects of exercise to improve a very serious problem: depression.

I’m sure either you or someone you know has suffered from depression. In fact, it’s the leading cause of disability in the U.S. (Craft & Perna, 2004). This is not a little problem. Sure, physical illnesses and disabilities get more attention than mental disorders but mental disorders are serious as well and need to be treated with the same regard as other physical disabilities.

Depression can be greatly reduced with exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410). Although it isn’t a cause and effect relationship, exercise is correlated with lower depression rates (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410).  There have been many studies on this correlation. These studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as psychotherapy and some anti-depression medication (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410).  And this exercise doesn’t mean spending 2-3 hours at the gym every single day--however, it is most effective to be active at least 3-5 times a week (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410).



(Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410) 

The activity can be aerobic:                    Or it can be anaerobic**:




Interval training

Circuit training

Resistance training


See? You don’t really have an excuse. You can do any exercise and you’ll see results. Plus, this works for everyone, regardless of previous fitness level (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410)! A super fit marathon runner will see the same results as a recently retired couch potato. All ages, races, health statuses, and socioeconomic statuses are effected the same (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 410). That’s quite a big group.

Not quite convinced yet? Here are both the physical and psychological effects of exercise when it comes to depression. 

Let’s start with the physical effects. Right after someone exercises, endorphins are released in their body (Craft & Perna, 2004). Endorphins put you in a good mood and make you happy. Exercise also makes brain neurotransmitters (chemical substances released by the nervous system that includes serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) more readily available for the body to use (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 412). People with depression don’t always have these neurotransmitters readily available—which leads to the negative symptoms of depression. More blood and oxygen is available to the brain—a brain with more nutrients and materials for energy is a happy and healthy one (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 412)! Depressed people sometimes struggle with going from one bad thought to the next, and forming connections between these negative ideas. Exercise literally breaks those neural connections between negative thoughts (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 413).

Still not convinced? Here are some psychological explanations for why exercise is correlated with lower rates of depression. First of all, what are some issues that depressed people struggle with?

vnot feeling in control

vnot feeling “good enough”

vlow self-esteem

vno joy in their lives

vlack of friends or social relationships


Is there something that:

vis in someone’s control and is their responsibility to get done (leading to more control in life)

vhelps someone lose weight and get more fit (leading to higher self-image)

vhelps people reach personal goals and feel accomplished (leading to better self-esteem)

vcan be fun and enjoyable (leading to joy in someone’s life)

vprovides people with social interaction (leading to a better social life) (Weinberg & Gould, 2015, p. 413).


The answer is YES. Exercise!




Exercise for Stress and Anxiety

Exercise and Depression





Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.


Weinberg, Robert S. (Robert Stephen), & Gould, D., 1952. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (6th ed.) Human Kinetics"