Exercise and Depression

Depression (Major Depressive Disorder / Clinical Depression) is characterised by some of the following signs and symptoms:​1​

  • Persistently feeling low / negative / hopeless / pessimistic
  • Feeling irritable, guilty, worthless, helpless
  • Losing interest in things that interested us
  • Lower energy levels / faster onset of fatigue
  • Slower physical movement and speech
  • Difficulty in relaxing, sitting still
  • Issues with memory, focus and decision making
  • Sleep issues, both lack of sleep and over-sleeping
  • Changes in weight/appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts/tendencies
  • Physiological issues such as aches, pains, cramps etc., without a clear cause and which do not respond to treatment.

For various reasons, quite a few of us do not seek treatment for the condition. This includes social stigma and trivialising the issue. I encourage you to seek treatment. If you aren’t doing so or cannot do so for any reason, my articles may help in exploring the condition, and perhaps provide some relief with privacy. Again, these articles aren’t a substitute for qualified and experienced professional help.

If you haven’t seen my article on Dietary Interventions for Depression Relief, I encourage you to do so. I have seen incredible results using that model.

Can Exercise Help?

As with all my articles, this one too is based on authoritative sources, that I’ve summarised for your convenience. If you find yourself interested in a particular finding or statement, just go to the references section and visit the link to read the study or source in detail.

  1. Exercise improved the efficacy of standard treatment interventions.​2,3​
  2. Aerobic exercises improve depressive symptom severity.​4,5​
  3. Exercise is a beneficial treatment strategy for depression.​6–10​
  4. Exercise can be more beneficial in the treatment of depression than certain prescription drugs.​11​

What kind of exercise program will help?

As per this paper, the following characteristics will maximise the effectiveness of an exercise schedule in the addressing of depressive symptoms.​12​

  1. Supervised, structured exercise
  2. Aerobic (e.g. cycling), resistance (e.g. weight training) or mixed
  3. Low/moderate in intensity, and tailored to individual preferences
  4. Session duration of 45 minutes to 1 hour
  5. Total weekly exercise greater than/equal to 150 minutes
  6. Course duration of exercise program – 10 weeks
  7. Supplemental to medication

I hope this article motivates us to exercise, and take our health into our own hands. Please do leave comments if you have feedback or questions.


  1. 1.
    NIMH. Depression Overview. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Published February 2018.
  2. 2.
    Gourgouvelis J, Yielder P, Clarke S, Behbahani H, Murphy B. Exercise Leads to Better Clinical Outcomes in Those Receiving Medication Plus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29559928.
  3. 3.
    Gourgouvelis J, Yielder P, Murphy B. Exercise Promotes Neuroplasticity in Both Healthy and Depressed Brains: An fMRI Pilot Study. Neural Plast. 2017;2017:8305287. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28828187.
  4. 4.
    Gerber M, Minghetti A, Beck J, Zahner L, Donath L. Sprint Interval Training and Continuous Aerobic Exercise Training Have Similar Effects on Exercise Motivation and Affective Responses to Exercise in Patients With Major Depressive Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:694. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30622487.
  5. 5.
    Alderman B, Olson R, Brush C, Shors T. MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity. Transl Psychiatry. 2016;6:e726. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26836414.
  6. 6.
    Nebiker L, Lichtenstein E, Minghetti A, et al. Moderating Effects of Exercise Duration and Intensity in Neuromuscular vs. Endurance Exercise Interventions for the Treatment of Depression: A Meta-Analytical Review. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:305. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30072923.
  7. 7.
    Ravindran A, Balneaves L, Faulkner G, et al. Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) 2016 Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Adults with Major Depressive Disorder: Section 5. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments. Can J Psychiatry. 2016;61(9):576-587. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27486153.
  8. 8.
    Nasstasia Y, Baker A, Halpin S, et al. Evaluating the efficacy of an integrated motivational interviewing and multi-modal exercise intervention for youth with major depression: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind randomised controlled trial protocol. Contemp Clin Trials Commun. 2017;9:13-22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29696220.
  9. 9.
    Farioli V, Sacchetti S, Nicolis di, Cutuli D. The Role of Physical Exercise and Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Depressive Illness in the Elderly. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(3):308-326. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28901279.
  10. 10.
    Phillips C. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Depression, and Physical Activity: Making the Neuroplastic Connection. Neural Plast. 2017;2017:7260130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28928987.
  11. 11.
    de S, Zanetti M, Brunoni A, Machado-Vieira R. Challenging Treatment-Resistant Major Depressive Disorder: A Roadmap for Improved Therapeutics. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(5):616-635. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26467411.
  12. 12.
    Ranjbar E, Memari A, Hafizi S, Shayestehfar M, Mirfazeli F, Eshghi M. Depression and Exercise: A Clinical Review and Management Guideline. Asian J Sports Med. 2015;6(2):e24055. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26448838.

You might like these