What Kind of Exercise Is Good for Depression?
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Tackle Depression With Exercise

Written by
Dr. Ashok Kumar
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Oct 15, 2014 and last reviewed on Jul 17, 2023   -  4 min read


The drugs available for the treatment of depression are very useful in easing depressive symptoms. Please read the article to know more.

Tackle Depression With Exercise


Depression is one of the most common medical issues worldwide that is stretching its arms vigorously. Standard treatments, generic medicines have not been effective in preventing the further occurrence of this condition. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can take months to provide a significant beneficial outcome. Other than this, the side effects of these antidepressant drugs are a further concern, based on the individual patient's physical and mental health status. Additionally, in order to achieve complete disappearance (remission), one-third of patients require a combination of two or more different drugs. Despite that, about one in three depressed individuals do not improve with available medicines.

How Does Exercise Help With Depression?

A number of research studies have shown that regular exercise could be of high potential in the management of depression or symptoms of depression. Additionally, exercise has been linked with remarkable positive and very few negative effects, if any, on other disorders. From a neurological point of view, engagement in exercise has shown that it is linked with improvement of hippocampal volume, increased blood supply to the prefrontal cortex, and accentuation of brain mediators such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

On the other hand, the study of depressed individual's brains demonstrated that the hippocampus and prefrontal areas of the brain are one of the most severely affected areas in depressed patients. It has been hypothesized that if exercise and depression have opposite effects on brain areas that play a significant role in the causation of depression, then exercise must counter the symptoms of depression by increasing the volume and, most importantly, functioning of involved brain areas.

Is Exercise More Effective Than Antidepressant Medications?

Importantly, data from several research centers have indicated that exercise to be just as effective as antidepressant medications in the management of depressive disorders. Furthermore, engaging in regular physical exercise can abolish medication dependence and help in reducing the dose of prescribed medications. More importantly, few research studies have established that exercise is more effective than medication in preventing recurrence of depression. It is now established beyond the doubt that exercise imparts other benefits mentioned above like reduction of moodiness, improvement of positive attitude and outlook, and improved mental well-being.

How to Start With Exercise and Stay Motivated?

Having regular physical activity will be challenging, and the steps needed to start with exercise and staying motivated are,

  1. Figuring out what type of exercise a person likes and thinking about when and how to most likely follow them.

  2. Also, take an interest in gardening in the evening, start the day with jogging, go for a bike ride or play basketball with children after school. Engage in activities that a person enjoys and stick with them.

  3. Talk to the mental health professional for support. Discuss the exercise program routine and how it fits with the overall treatment plan.

  4. Do not look up the exercise schedule or physical activity as a chore; rather, look it up the same way a person looks at the therapy sessions or medication to help them get better.

  5. Find out what demotivating factors are for a person. If an individual finds that they stick to their goals better with a partner or friend, work out with someone who enjoys the same physical activities that a person is involved with.

Why Is Exercise More Beneficial for Depression?

While the beneficial effects of exercise as a treatment modality of depression are proved beyond doubt, it may also have some hurdles to execute, for example, daunting cost or physical limitation of individuals. Therefore, it is essential to develop strategies for successful compliance by the patient, setting reasonable and realistic goals and preparing them for setbacks or barriers.

Whether exercise regimen is used as a first-line treatment of depression or as an additional strategy to medication or psychotherapy, patients have virtually nothing to lose and a lot to gain from adopting an exercise approach in tackling the symptoms of depression.

How Much Time Should Be Spent On Exercise?

Exercise should be done 30 minutes every day, or spending more time a day for three to five days a week will significantly improve depression. Also, smaller amounts of regular physical activity, as little as 15 to 20 minutes at a time, will make a difference. It only takes less time for exercise to improve a person’s mood, that is, doing more vigorous activities like running or bicycling. Spending more time exercising is usually needed to meet a specific fitness target or goal, especially when a person is working on body weight loss.

But the mental health benefits of physical activity and exercise will last long only if they stick with it over a long period of time.


It is better to ask a doctor before starting a new exercise program because knowing safety before practicing is essential. Speak to the doctor to determine the activities, how much exercise, and what intensity level of exercise should be performed. In addition, the doctor may consider any medications by knowing your health conditions and also advice about getting started and staying motivated.

After performing regular exercise, when a person notices depression still interferes with their daily living, seek a doctor or mental health professional. In addition, it is better to understand that exercise and physical activity are great ways to overcome symptoms of depression, but they are not a substitute for psychotherapy or antidepressant medications.

Frequently Asked Questions


Which Exercise Is Best to Tackle Depression?

Some exercises can be beneficial in improving the mental health of patients suffering from depression, like running, lifting weights, yoga, Tai-chi, and walking. In addition, patients may benefit from trampoline sessions, going out during the daytime, and cycling.


After How Long Do Exercises Cure Depression?

Regular exercise for more than 30 minutes daily for five to seven days may significantly improve depression and anxiety symptoms. It is also seen that regular exercises for as little as 15 minutes every day may also show substantial progress.


What Three Strategies Help to Cope With Depression?

The three primary strategies to cope with depression are:
- Take support from friends, families, and support groups.
- Indulge in activities and hobbies that give happiness.
- Eat healthy, exercise, and inculcate positive thinking.


How Does Exercise Affect Serotonin Levels?

Regular exercise increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons, resulting in increased serotonin production and secretion. Physical exercise involves a lot of muscle and motor activity which increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons that stimulate the synthesis and release of serotonin. Additionally, there is an increase in levels of tryptophan which is a precursor of serotonin.


Which Exercise Is Best to Tackle Anxiety?

Some exercises benefit anxiety patients, like walking, jogging, running, yoga, and Tai chi. Serotonin is also known as the feel-good hormone. Participating regularly in such exercises induces an increased secretion of serotonin which is beneficial in anxiety patients.


How to Rapidly Treat Depression?

Take short walks daily, practice calisthenics at home, and indulge in dance and music. These may be the fastest ways to treat depression. In the long term, making a habit out of these activities can take the mind off, and physical activity improves the mood via the hormonal route. Due to the relaxing effect of these activities, individuals look forward to their daily slot in the timetable allotted for such activities.


What Makes a Person Depressed?

A person becomes depressed due to a history of abuse, certain medications, hormonal changes, conflicts, traumatic events, serious illness, or substance abuse.


What Can Rewire the Brain to Manifest Happiness?

To rewire the brain to manifest happiness:
- Practice gratitude.
- Get optimum sleep.
- Think more about accomplishments than failures.
- Make a decision and stick to its implementation.
- Give a hug.
- Get a relaxing massage.


What Are the Most Important 5 Reasons for Depression?

The top five causes of depression are:
- Stressful life events.
- Critical illness.
- Certain medications.
- Substance abuse.
- Abusive history.


What Is the Best Exercise to Improve Mental Health?

Outdoor running, jogging, or walking is the best exercise to improve mental health conditions. Physical exercise increases the serotonin levels of the body, boosting mood and overall improvement of mental health. That feeling of happiness makes the person look forward to their exercise routines.


How to Improve Mood and Energy?

A few lifestyle changes to improve daily mood and energy are:
- Wake up early.
- Make a friend smile.
- Tidy your living areas.
- Start diary entries.
- Take regular walks.
- Browse through old photos and video memories.
- Do laundry.
- Listen to music.
- Dance.
- Eat a healthy meal.
- Do something nice for others.
- Do the dishes.
- Put on the best outfit.
- Get optimum sleep.


Does Vitamin Supplementation Help Depression?

Vitamin B3 and B9 can improve depression as the vitamins increase the synthesis and release of serotonin which ultimately help with depression states.


How to Tackle Manic Depression?

Manic depression or Bipolar disorder can be managed by:
- Practice a healthy routine.
- Plan the day accordingly to avoid triggers.
- Do not be afraid of the condition.
- Stay active.
- Join a support group.
- Pharmacotherapy.


Can Depression Be Associated With a Chemical Imbalance?

Chemical imbalance as etiologic to depression is an outdated hypothesis that has been disproven as this explanation does not capture the complexity of the condition.


Which Is the Most Serious Form of Depression?

Clinical depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder, is the most severe form of depression due to its seriousness and persistence. Major depression also presents with changes in behavior, sleep pattern, appetite, self-esteem, and even suicidal thought. These persons must be referred to mental health professionals for therapy and medications.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
17 Jul 2023  -  4 min read




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