Does exercise help alleviate depression?

If I come home in a bad mood, my husband usually suggests I head out for a run or over to the pool for a swim. That’s because he knows that exercise helps to improve my frame of mind. But does it also help improve the symptoms for people suffering from clinical depression?

A new systematic review tackles this topic. The review, published in the Cochrane Database, included 37 clinical trials with a total of more than 2,000 participants that compared exercise to either no treatment or another clinical intervention.

The researchers found that exercise is moderately more effective than no treatment for reducing symptoms of depression, but that the methods used in the studies were not always robust. When compared to psychological or pharmacological therapies, they found exercise to be approximately as effective, but not more effective.

The reviewers concluded that more research is needed to investigate the details of what types of exercise could most benefit people with depression, and the frequency and duration needed to make a difference. They also suggested more large clinical trials that compare exercise with antidepressants or other psychological treatments.

The take-home message: Exercise does improve depressive symptoms, although it’s not clear how much is needed to make a difference. Considering exercise’s other benefits — including weight control, cardiovascular health, and muscle and bone strength — it’s clearly a worthwhile endeavor.


  1. With regular, consistent exercise, it is difficult to let a busy mind take over and spiral you down into depression. With strength training and cardio you focus at the task at hand. The natural painkilling endorphins help to relax the body and mind. Studies also show that hippocampus (the area of the brain involved with emotion, memory, and learning) volume increases with exercise. Exercising also boosts self image/esteem. If you are going to a gym to workout it helps you to get outside and be surrounded by people rather than isolating. Even if exercise is just as good as antidepressants, it doesn’t come along with negative side effects. The problem lies if your routine is ruined and your depression is severe to the point where you can hardly get yourself out of bed and outside.

    I agree with Alan, that a healthy diet is an essential part of mental health. This includes a high protein diet (since amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters which are considered to be involved in depression) with healthy fats (from fish oil, coconut oil and avocado), vitamins (especially vitamin B and D), and minerals (especially magnesium).

  2. Alan says:

    Yes, exercise helps depression. I’ve suffered my entire life and found that regular exercise and the proper diet worked best for me. I do a combination of weight training and cardio (class or machine) 5-6 times a week for 1-2 hours. After exercise, I enjoy a fruit/vegetable smoothie while snacking on walnuts. After doing this routine for year, I was hooked.

Speak Your Mind


Skip to toolbar