Exercise for depression
Being depressed can leave you feeling low in energy, which might put you off being more active.
Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression, and it’s especially useful for people with mild to moderate depression.
Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and you do enough of it. Exercise should be something you enjoy; otherwise, it will be hard to find the motivation to do it regularly.
How often do you need to exercise?
To stay healthy, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week.
If you have not exercised for a while, start gradually and aim to build up towards achieving 150 minutes a week.
Any exercise is better than none and even a brisk 10-minute walk can clear your mind and help you relax.
Go for a Run for an All-Natural Mood Boost
“The most tangible example of exercise stimulating certain brain chemicals is the runner’s high that many athletes report experiencing once crossing a certain threshold of exertion,” says David Muzina, MD, a psychiatrist based in Cleveland. That sense of euphoria is thought to be due to the release of endorphins in the brain in response to sustained physical activity.
“Endorphins reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and the director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services in New York City. Exercise also has a host of physical benefits that can make you feel better overall by decreasing muscle tension, improving sleep quality, and reducing anxiety, she notes.
So which workouts fight depression best? “To date, the strongest evidence seems to support aerobic exercise,” says Dr. Muzina. This includes running, swimming, walking, hiking, aerobics classes, dancing, cross-country skiing, and kickboxing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, engaging in at least 30 minutes of exercise on three to five days of the week could significantly lessen depressive symptoms. And if you’re short on time, even a 10- to 15-minute spurt of exercise could make a difference, the Mayo Clinic reports.
Lift Your Mood by Lifting Some Weights
Strength-training exercises also help relieve symptoms of depression, according to an analysis of 21 studies, which was published in August 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Similarly, a review of studies published in June 2018 in JAMA Psychiatry showed that adults who exercise with weights are less likely to develop depression than those who never exercise with weights.
How do barbells and similar equipment brighten one’s mood? For people with mild to moderate depression, weight training can be a somewhat meditative practice, says Dr. Hafeez. “While you are weight training, your mind is focused on the task at hand and not thinking about anything else,” she says.
Not to mention, there are other benefits, such as increased muscle definition, elevated blood flow, and hard work — all of which can improve your outlook and give you a deep sense of satisfaction when you reach your goals, Hafeez says.
Just be sure to start slowly and use the assistance of a personal trainer if needed.
Combine Yoga With Other Treatments to Feel Even Better
Practicing yoga is another activity that can ease symptoms of depression, especially when combined with usual treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, according to a study published in May 2019 in American Family Physician.
“Eastern traditions such as yoga have a wonderful antidepressant effect in that they improve flexibility; involve mindfulness, which breaks up repetitive negative thoughts; increase strength; make you aware of your breathing; improve balance; and contain a meditative component,” says Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC.
Dr. Rosenthal suggests starting with a yoga class in your area so you can be sure that you’re doing the movements and poses properly. Group yoga offers social benefits, too, Hafeez adds.
Not enough evidence is available to know which type of yoga is best for treating your depression or how long you need to be doing yoga to see benefits. But a study published in 2018 in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that women who practiced hatha yoga, which combines yoga poses with breathing techniques, three times a week for four weeks reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, compared with those levels at the start of the study.
Another small study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Yoga found that doing 60 minutes of a similar yoga practice twice a week over the course of 12 weeks decreased levels of depression and anxiety and increased self-esteem among elderly women.