We’re going to be looking at how introducing exercise into your daily routine can potentially alleviate the symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. There has been a significant number of scientific studies conducted on the topic with many showing that regular exercisers typically enjoy better mental health than non-exercisers – in this article we’re breaking it all down and giving you further information on how to improve your own mental health through exercise and healthy living.

Coping With Depression


Mental health issues like depression are becoming more and more common, recent surveys have shown that 1 in 5 of us suffer from the disorder at some point in our lives. NHS England has stated that clinical depression can vary significantly; it can come in mild, moderate or severe forms.

Treating depression can be somewhat tricky due to how complex the disorder is; researchers at Harvard University have stated that no one thing causes depression, rather it can be caused by a multitude of things such as “faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems”.

While mental health disorders are typically treat with prescription medications, cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling, often the first thing doctors will ask patients to do is to increase their daily exercise amount.

Why Is Exercise So Effective At Relieving the Symptoms of Depression?

Exercising has been shown to be an effective treatment for those with mild to moderate mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety etc. Exercise reduces the symptoms of depression in a number of different ways, but the main reason it is so effect is because strenuous physical actives causes the body to produce chemicals known as endorphins, a.k.a the “feel-good” chemical.

Endorphins are structurally similar to morphine and produce a feeling of euphoria; A troubled and anxious mind can be put at ease with an exercise session. Post-exercise, you may experience what is known as “runner’s high”, which is essentially just a huge endorphin rush that lasts for some time after you have stops exercising.

The euphoric effects of endorphins can significantly alter your mood for the better and research has suggested that the benefits of exercise involvement may be long lasting. Not only can endorphins cause a feeling of euphoria, but scientists have also described them as a natural painkiller. The sedating, painkilling effects of endorphins are beneficial for those suffering from depression.

In order to get the full benefit, you should be exercising at moderate to high intensity for 30-60 minutes each day for at least 3-6 months.

Based on studies we’ve found, exercise has been shown to:

  • Lower stress levels.
  • Reduce anxiety.
  • Reduce depression & negative thoughts.
  • Improve your confidence.
  • Speed up the onset of sleep and enhance the quality of sleep.

As well as the mental health benefits, exercise of course has numerous other general health benefits.

What Do The Studies Say?

We have found the following studies that have all concluded that exercise does indeed relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders:

Study 1: The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed.

This study involved a group people people exercising for 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week for a total of 12 weeks.

Conclusion: This study concluded that exercise can improve treatment outcomes for many patients. Researchers involved went on to state that the depressed adults who took part in the 12 week fitness program displayed significantly greater improvements in depression, anxiety, and self-concept.

Study 2: Exercise for Cognitive Symptoms in Depression: A Systematic Review of Interventional Studies.

This study looked at the effectiveness of exercise for treating those with major depressive disorders (MDD).

Conclusion: The study showed that exercise alone had no impact on treating MDD, however researchers stated that exercise combined with other depression treatments showed positive results.

Study 3: Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?

This study looked at a control group and a placebo control group whom all suffered from depression. The control group was directed to start exercising from home.

Conclusion: Researchers concluded that “exercise appears to be an effective treatment for depression and improving depressive symptoms”. Furthermore, they stated that when exercise is combined with assigned medications, it may reduce the risk of future relapse.

Can Exercise Permanently Cure Depression?

Due to the complexity of the condition it’s very hard for health experts to say when someone is completely cured of depression. For the most part, depression is managed, rather than cured; often treatments like medications, counselling and exercising combined can totally remove any symptoms of depression, however it is entirely possible that the depression symptoms can return if they are stopped.

Despite this, experts say that being physically active should be a corner stone of your depression treatment – remaining active after symptoms have subsided is also important – don’t expect to be completely cured after a few 60 minute treadmill sessions.

Best Types of Exercise For Treating Depression?

Research has shown that pretty much any type of exercise is beneficial as long as you’re physically exerting yourself. Extremely low intensity exercise may not produce the endorphins required to relieve depression symptoms. As a rule of thumb, you should be aiming to get your heart rate above 160 beats per minute.

Advisable forms of exercise would be:

  • High intensity cardiovascular training (such as running on a treadmill or using elliptical/crosstrainer machines)
  • Low-impact highly-active sporting activities (such as football, tennis, squash)

There may also be added advantage in attending group exercise classes due to the social aspect.

For most people, sustaining a regular exercise routine can be difficult – especially if you’re battling depression. The key to having a successful routine is to find an activity you genuinely enjoy. If you know you’ll not last too long attending a gym, or just don’t like the idea of going to a gym, the best choice is often partaking in a sporting activity that you particularly enjoy.

Note: if you’re just starting to exercise, depending on your current physical condition, you should consider taking it easy to begin with to avoid injury or over-exertion; As your stamina gradually improves you can ramp up the intensity.

Do I Need to See My Doctor Prior to Exercising?

While you typically will not need your doctors avoid to start exercising, if you have a delicate medical situation or are above the age of 50 it may be worth consulting with a healthcare professional to ensure it’s ok for you to proceed with high-intensity training.

The most important advise would be to list to your body and stop when you become physically exerted – do not overwork yourself or push yourself beyond your limits.

If exercising is, or becomes, painful for you you should reevaluate what activities you’re doing. Often partaking in “high-impact” activities can hurt joints and/or tendons, if this becomes the case you should look at changing activity to something low impact like swimming. If your pain persists over the longterm you should seek consultation from your doctor, as your pain may be the result of a more serious injury.

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