Can Working Out Help With Depression?

Many people turn to exercise when they’re feeling down, but can working out really help with depression? We take a look at the science to find out.


Depression is a common mental health disorder affecting an estimated 264 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization. While your doctor may prescribe medications to help with symptoms of depression, it can be beneficial to look at other treatments that could supplement such medical interventions. Specifically, exercise has been studied in relation to its ability to reduce depressive symptoms over time. This guide explores how working out can help with depression and how you can incorporate exercise into your routine for maximum benefits.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise has many mental and physical health benefits, and the exercise-depression connection is one that can not be overlooked. Studies have shown that regular physical activity, even moderate levels of exercise, can help improve symptoms of depression. Exercise can also reduce fatigue, improve concentration, and even increase self-esteem. Let’s take a look at some of the other benefits of exercise and how it can help with depression.

Improved Mood

Exercise is a powerful tool that has many mental and physical benefits, including improved mood. Countless studies have linked it to decreased depression, improved mental health and enhanced overall well-being and quality of life. Regular physical activity has been proven to increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and endorphins in the brain. These chemicals are all involved in maintaining good moods and happiness, along with improving memory, focus and attention span.

The positive effects of moderate levels of exercise can help ease symptoms associated with depression. Moderate-intensity aerobic activities such as running or biking for 30 minutes four times a week have been shown to decrease depressive symptoms in those suffering from clinical depression. Working out also provides important social contact and support during a time when feelings of isolation can be strong, making it easier to continue on the path to health and wellbeing.

Finding enjoyable activities to do helps keep you motivated, so if running or biking isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options: swimming, dancing, martial arts classes – whatever suits your level of fitness best. Aside from physical benefits such as weight loss or muscle gain, having a regular workout routine can provide therapeutic benefits like an improved sleep cycle which is essential for recovering psychologically from the stressors associated with depression. Until progress is made on this important subject more research is needed to explore the full range of exercise’s implications for caring for people with depression disorder; but so far there is clear evidence that exercise should be part of any comprehensive therapy plan aimed at treating this condition effectively.

Increased Self-Esteem

Regular exercise can help improve self-esteem and confidence. This is especially true when individuals find that their physical activity goals build upon one another, as this can give a person a greater sense of accomplishment and pride. Exercise has also been known to release natural chemicals in the brain that can act as triggers for increased feelings of well-being and happiness. Along with improving overall physical health, exercise has also been shown to improve mood by helping reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Regular physical activity helps to increase energy levels, relax the body, enhance sleep quality and provide other positive effects which can all contribute to improved mental well-being.

Improved Sleep

Exercise is an excellent way to promote healthy sleep patterns. Working out on a regular basis can lead to great improvements in your overall quality of sleep. Those who get regular exercise tend to find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer periods of time. Exercise also has a positive impact on the hormones related to sleep, such as melatonin and serotonin. Studies have also indicated that people who engage in regular physical activity experience fewer disturbances throughout the night and have more consistent, restful nights of sleep compared to those who do not get enough physical activity during the day. So, if you’re having trouble sleeping, consider getting out and exercising!

Types of Exercise

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and there is evidence that it can help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Different types of exercise have different benefits, so it is important to find the right type of exercise that works best for you. In this article, we will go over some of the different types of exercise and how they can help with depression.


Cardio exercises, such as running, swimming, and biking, are a great way to get in regular physical activity. These activities help to boost your cardiovascular system’s ability to pump blood and oxygen to your muscles. Additionally, these exercises can help create endorphins–natural feel-good hormones that can counter the effects of depression.

Types of cardio exercises include:
-High intensity interval training (HIIT)
-Aerobic dance classes
-Jogging or walking on an incline
-Climbing stairs or rope climbing

Strength Training

Strength training is any exercise that works large muscle groups and involves resistance or weight-bearing activities. This type of exercise is beneficial in helping to increase muscle mass and strength, reduce body fat, improve joint mobility and flexibility, prevent osteoporosis,and assist with the management of depression.

When it comes to strength training, there are two distinct types of exercises: anaerobic exercises which are short bursts of intense activity like burst walking or sprinting that use oxygen stores in the body; and aerobic exercises which involve long duration activities that use oxygen from the lungs. Anaerobic exercises usually involve weights such as free weights, machines or body weight exercises; while aerobic exercises include running, jogging and cycling.

Strength training can provide many physical benefits such as increased energy levels, increased muscle mass and strength, improved bone density, better posture and balance. However its effects on mental health have been found to be even more effective. Studies have shown that regular strength training increases serotonin levels in the brain which helps reduce anxiety and depression. In addition to this physical benefit, lifting weights can also lead to improved self-image and confidence along with improved outlook on life as a whole.

Yoga & Mindfulness

Yoga and other forms of mindful movement combined with breathing exercises can be extremely beneficial for improving both physical and mental health. Yoga is a form of exercise that can be used to help control the physical symptoms of depression by relieving muscle tension, calming the mind, and regulating breathing. Certain stretching or postural poses can also channel the energy generated in different parts of the body to promote relaxation, balance hormones, and increase circulation. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques can also help reduce levels of general anxiety through a combination of body awareness practices, meditation, and breathing exercises. These practices also clear away any negative thoughts and self-judgment that may be preventing a person from feeling connected to their true self. Mindful movement combined with breath work not only helps lessen depression symptoms but teaches attendees how to observe their thoughts without judgment so they can acknowledge how their emotions affect them on both a mental and physical level. Additionally, guided visualization techniques are often used in MBSR sessions to imagine feelings of relaxation or peace which allows individuals to respond differently when feeling depressed or anxious. All these aspects make yoga & mindfulness an ideal form of exercise for those suffering from depression or anxiety as they aim to foster an inner sense of balance within an individual’s mind & body.

Tips for Getting Started

Exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression. Not only does it help improve overall physical health and energy levels, but it also has psychological benefits linked to it as well. Regular physical activity can help reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and improve concentration. With these benefits in mind, let’s take a look at some tips for getting started with working out to help deal with depression.

Set Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals that are achievable in the short and long term is key to starting any new activity – and working out is no exception. While it’s great to have big dreams, over-reaching too soon can lead to frustration or even discouragement. Writing out a list of short and long term goals can help you establish achievable objectives that work within your lifestyle and resources.

Your goals should reflect how much time and commitment you’re willing to give each week, as well as what you want to gain from working out. This could include anything from wanting better overall physical health, more energy for daily tasks, or capacity for certain activities (like running a marathon). Having targets will also make it easier for you to track your success along the way. Ultimately this will give motivational feedback as part of your journey – so choose targets you feel confident about tackling.
Start small by setting a goal of two or three days per week of exercise that fits with your schedule, then gradually increase once the routine feels comfortable. Setting yourself mini-challenges along the way (such as going on an extra walk at lunchtime) can also help keep things interesting while allowing progress in smaller steps as opposed to one large leap forward at once.

Find a Support System

Finding the right support system can make a huge difference when you’re struggling with depression. It’s important to feel connected with people who understand what you’re going through. Look for friends, family members, therapists, doctors or online communities where you can express yourself and get the emotional support that can help provide much-needed relief from depression. If your family and friends aren’t available to help, look into mental health hotlines or organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) that offer support groups or one-on-one counseling. A good therapist can even teach you coping skills that may help you better manage and deal with your depression symptoms. And by joining a support group, whether face-to-face or online, it is possible to find individuals dealing with similar situations so that you don’t have to cope alone.

Find an Exercise You Enjoy

Finding an activity or exercise you can enjoy is essential when working out to help with depression. Exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression, so it is important to find one that motivates you and helps you stay active. Walking, swimming, yoga, biking and jogging are all excellent forms of exercise that you can use to get moving and help reduce the symptoms of depression. Try to commit to doing your chosen activity at least three times a week for 30 minutes or more each session.

If possible, make sure to exercise with someone else for added motivation. It could be a friend, family member or even a personal trainer. Working out with someone else can make it easier for both of you to stay motivated and committed. Make sure to keep your workouts fun by changing up the activities – try different types of activities like Pilates or weight training on different days in order to stay engaged.

Remember- even if it’s just 10 minutes a day- any type of physical activity can boost your mood and increase your energy levels!


In conclusion, it is clear that physical exercise can be a beneficial component in the treatment of depression. Studies have found that regular physical exercise may lead to improvements in mental health, as evidenced by lower levels of anxiety and increased wellbeing after engaging in workouts. Additionally, regular exercises may reduce symptoms of depression by improving self-image and helping to develop coping skills. Exercise also releases endorphins which can help to relieve feelings of stress and calm the negative effects of depression. Finally, exercise can create social connections for those who are struggling with depression who may be feeling isolated or disconnected from others due to their mental state.

For these reasons, it is important for people who are currently struggling with depression or have had similar bouts in the past to actively engage in regular physical activity as part of their treatment plan. A combination of different types of exercise such as aerobic activities, strength training exercises and activities like yoga or Tai Chi can provide multiple benefits both physically and mentally. Additionally, physical activity should be combined with other factors such as maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress levels through relaxation techniques and developing cognitive strategies for problem solving and emotional regulation for improved outcomes.

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