Does Working Out Help With Depression?

If you’re struggling with depression, you might be wondering if working out can help. The short answer is yes, exercise can be a great way to improve your mood and mental health. Read on to learn more about the benefits of exercise for depression and how to get started.


Physical activity is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and provides a variety of benefits. While many recognize that exercise can help manage physical health, research has also demonstrated the positive effect regular physical activity can have on mental health. In particular, studies have suggested that participating in physical activity can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Depression is a serious mental disorder with varied and complex causes. It is generally accepted as an emotional disorder in which feelings of sadness and despair interfere with daily life for weeks or longer. Previously limited research in this area has led to mixed results regarding the role exercise plays in mitigating depression symptoms. Recent studies have gone deeper, allowing for a better understanding of both the scientific link between the two, as well as how to apply it practically when it comes to self-care and management.

Benefits of Exercise

Regular exercise offers tremendous physical and mental health benefits, including improving your mood and helping to reduce symptoms of depression. Exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for depression, as it affects many different aspects of your body and mind. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which exercise can help with depression.

Improved Mood

Exercise can be an effective tool for managing depression and improving your overall mood. It helps by releasing endorphins, a type of natural ‘feel good’ chemical that is produced in the brain when we exert ourselves physically. Endorphins help reduce stress, reduce pain and can even have an antidepressant effect on our moods. Physical exercise also helps promote better sleep, allowing you to feel more energized during the day when combating depression. It also encourages longer feelings of accomplishment and wellbeing as the effects of exercise tend to linger for some time after you’ve finished your workout session. Furthermore, regular exercise has been associated with a decrease in both anxiety and characteristic avoidance behaviors that people with depression often struggle with.

Studies suggest that almost any type of exercise can be beneficial for boosting one’s mood, including walking or jogging, aerobics classes or team sports like tennis or soccer. For those living with depression who may struggle to motivate themselves to engage in physical activity, trying something new or involving friends or family members can be a great way to increase enjoyment while exercising.

Increased Self-Esteem

Many individuals struggling with depressive symptoms find that exercise can be a helpful tool. One of the major benefits of exercising regularly is an increase in self-esteem. Working out not only has physical advantages, such as improved muscle strength and stamina, but it also produces emotional impacts, including feeling empowered and more confident about yourself. Studies have found that physical activities such as strength training, aerobic exercises or even just walking can have a direct correlation to higher self-esteem levels.

In addition to increased self-esteem, working out can provide a sense of reward for sticking to your fitness goals. Exercise encourages the release of endorphins, often referred to as “the feel good hormone” which can help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Having something tangible that you work towards and achieve—whether it’s completing a 5K or being able to lift heavier weights—can be enough motivation in reaching your bigger goals in life. It’s important to remember that even small victories are victories nonetheless; every success contributes toward your larger goals, giving you another reason to remain positive!

Improved Sleep

The physical and mental benefits of exercise play an important role in improving your overall health. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, boost energy levels, improve sleep, promote a healthy weight, strengthen immune system and reduce the risk of chronic disease. On top of those obvious physical benefits there have also been reports that exercise can help treat and even prevent depression.

When it comes to sleep specifically, exercise increases deep sleep time which is the most rejuvenating stage of our slumber cycle. Regular physical activity during workouts can promote better quality deep sleep as well as increased alertness throughout the day due to the body’s normal circadian rhythm being maintained. Additionally exercising can improve overall mood by increasing the production of natural hormones such as serotonin and norepinephrine which both affect our emotions positively and our overall sense of well-being. As depression can be caused by imbalances in these hormones, this benefit may be particularly beneficial for people suffering from anxiety or depression.

Types of Exercise

Exercise has been proven to be an important component of managing depression, with different types of physical activity providing a range of benefits. Research has shown that aerobic activities, such as running, can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, while resistance training can help increase your self-esteem and self-confidence. Let’s explore more of the types of exercise that can help with depression.


Cardio exercise is any type of physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing. Examples of aerobic exercise include running, jogging, swimming, walking, cycling, jumping rope and any activity involving dancing or moving your arms and legs. These types of activities can help your body use oxygen more efficiently so that you can improve your energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue. In addition, doing cardio exercises regularly can help to reduce stress hormones and improve the release of endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural mood enhancers. This can provide a boost to your mental health by helping to improve your moods, reduce anxiety and even lift depression symptoms. Cardio exercises also benefit physical health by increasing muscle strength, improving flexibility and helping maintain healthy weight levels.

Strength Training

Strength training is a common form of exercise that can provide important physical and mental health benefits. It involves using weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight to create an overload on the muscles. This forces the muscles to adapt over time by getting stronger or larger to meet the challenge of the overload you have placed on them. Strength training can be tailored towards any fitness level and can help improve strength, power, balance, coordination, and core stability — all important elements of overall health and wellbeing.

By regularly performing strength training exercises, individuals can increase their energy levels and reduce symptoms of depression as it raises serotonin levels in the brain due to increased movement of bodyweight which reduces stress hormones like cortisol. Strength-training activities help individuals become more self-confident about their physical appearance since increases in muscle mass can help them look and feel better about themselves. Improved physical performance from strength training workouts allows for improved functionality in daily activities such as carrying groceries and going up stairs with ease.

Common strength training exercises include squats, pushups, pulling movements like rows or pull ups, bench presses (upper body) as well as deadlifts (lower body). The number of sets generally depends on an individual’s personal goals but is typically anywhere between 2-5 sets with 12-15 reps per set depending on one’s fitness level. It is important to maintain proper form throughout each exercise session by engaging core muscles throughout each movement in order to achieve the desired goal safely without risking injury or fatigue.


Yoga is an ancient tradition originating from the Indian subcontinent. It involves a form of physical exercise that focuses on body movement, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques to help achieve mental and physical balance.
Yoga can be done alone or with a partner. For those dealing with depression, yoga offers not only physical exercise but also relaxation, meditations, self-reflection and mindfulness. Through controlled movements such as stretching, elongating the spine and being aware of one’s breath, many find that yoga helps to reduce stress associated with depression.
In addition to improving physical strength and balance relative to other activities such as weightlifting or running, the oftentimes silent environment found in normally crowded fitness centers can help allow the individual to become more connected with their own thoughts when participating in yoga classes. Such reflection on their thoughts can provide helpful insight into their own psychological issues which may play a role in developing or exacerbating depression symptoms.

How to Start Exercising

Exercise has been clinically proven to have positive effects on mental health. Starting a regular exercise regimen can be a great way to enhance your overall wellbeing and help with symptoms of depression. However, getting started can be hard and intimidating. In this article, we will cover tips and strategies on how to start exercising if you’ve been struggling with depression.

Find an Activity You Enjoy

For those looking to start incorporating a workout routine into their day-to-day lives, the first step is to find an activity that you enjoy. Working out shouldn’t feel like a chore — figure out what type of exercise makes you feel good and stay motivated. For some it may be running, others strength training or yoga – there are no wrong answers here!

Once you’ve found the activity that brings you joy, start with small steps — even 10 minutes a day can have positive effects on your mental health. Whether it’s taking a walk around the block or playing catch in the park, something is better than nothing. Increasing your physical activity can help reduce stress levels and lift your mood. Another great motivator is involving friends and family in your workouts — exercising with someone else helps make workouts all the more enjoyable, while at the same time keeping you accountable and on track in achieving your goals.

When starting a new exercise routine always make sure to listen to your body — rest if needed, take breaks when necessary and don’t compare yourself to anyone else at the gym. Celebrate progress over perfection!

Set Realistic Goals

Before you embark on a fitness journey, it is important to set realistic goals. Establish attainable goals that are suitable for your current fitness and lifestyle levels. Goals should be varied and cover physical activity, nutrition and rest. A recommended goal could include being active at least 30 minutes every day, drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water daily, adding a serving of vegetables or fruits to two meals daily and completing eight hours of sleep each night. Meeting these goals will help create a healthy routine that promotes emotional stability and improved physical wellbeing. As progress is made towards established goals feel free to challenge yourself by increasing the difficulty level or duration of the goals as long as they remain attainable.

Start Slow

When starting an exercise program, it is important to start slowly and increase the intensity of workouts gradually. For people who have depression, this can be especially important because low-intensity activity has been proven to improve psychological well-being. It can also be more enjoyable than more intense activities, which will help to keep you motivated throughout your exercise routine.

Starting off slow by taking part in activities such as walking on a flat surface without going up any hills or inclines is a great way to slowly build up your strength and stamina. Other low impact activities such as swimming and cycling are also good exercises to start with if you are new to working out. They provide a full body workout while avoiding any heavy jolting of the joints that could cause injury or pain during the exercising process.

It’s important to remember that no matter what type of exercise you do, it’s essential that you listen to your body and don’t overdo it — stick with a manageable routine and set realistic goals for yourself so that you can stay consistent in your workouts while making progress towards achieving better physical and mental health.

Find a Workout Buddy

When it comes to starting an exercise program, one of the best tips is to find someone who can be your workout partner. Research has proven that having a buddy helps you commit to exercising more and hold yourself more accountable. That’s because it’s often less time-consuming and much more motivating to work out with a friend as opposed to doing it alone. Plus, having someone there to discuss your goals and progress can also be very beneficial in establishing habits that will last.

There are many ways you can find a workout buddy – either through family, friends or working out in a group setting such as a running or cycling club. You should consider looking for someone with similar fitness goals so that you both remain motivated throughout the entire process. Working out together doesn’t have just physical benefits – studies have shown that forming bonds with someone through physical activities can lead to higher self-esteem, improved mental health and even reduced anxiety levels.


The research on the effects of working out for depression is mixed, with some studies showing beneficial effects and others inconclusive or showing negative effects. Overall, it appears that the benefits of exercise in treating depression depend on the severity of the depression and a person’s individual response to exercise.

If you’re considering using exercise to manage your symptoms of depression, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider first. Working with a therapist or other mental health professional can help you understand particular factors that may play a role in how you choose an exercise program and how you respond to it. It is also important to begin exercising at a moderate level and build up your intensity over time if needed for optimal results.

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