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Tackle Your Depression With Exercise

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

Published on Oct 15, 2014 and last reviewed on Aug 20, 2021   -  4 min read


All of us are aware that drugs available for the treatment of depression are very useful in easing depressive symptoms. Please read the article to know how to manage depression in a simple way or more easily at your doorsteps without any cost.

Tackle Your 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.

What Kind of Exercise Is Good for Depression?

Having said that, the question arises like, which kind of exercise are associated with better outcomes in depression -- resistance or aerobic?. However, research indicated that in regard to the treatment of depression and its core symptoms, little difference exists between different kinds of exercises, making the advice very easy for doctors and health care providers and the limitless engagement on the part of the patients.

In addition to this, research also pointed out that depression is one of the well recognized and preventable risk factors for some of the very serious chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and similar in potency with traditional risk factors such as age, smoking, hypercholesterolemia to mention a few. For example, it has been shown that the occurrence of depression doubles the risk of developing diabetes in a lifetime. So prescription of exercise as medical treatment will result not only in the improvement of depression but also in preventing the occurrence of other severe and devastating diseases like diabetes.

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 you to reduce 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 you like 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. Please do what you enjoy and stick with it.

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

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

  5. Find out what is stopping you. If you find that you stick to your goals better with a partner or friend, work out with them who enjoys the same physical activities that you do.

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 your mood, that is, doing more vigorous activities like running or bicycling.

But the mental health benefits of physical activity and exercise will last long only if you 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 you notice depression still interferes with your 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.

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Last reviewed at:
20 Aug 2021  -  4 min read




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