5 Ways Exercise Can Help Depression Symptoms

According to the World Health Organization, about 350 million people suffer from depression. In fact, the condition is the leading mental health condition and a leading cause of disability. Major depression brings overwhelming sadness and a loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable. If left untreated, depression can cause serious risks and complications.

While there are a variety of neuropsychiatric treatment options for those who suffer from depression, adding exercise to your routine can prove to be a helpful way to cope with the symptoms of depression.

  1. Exercise Releases Feel-Good Endorphins

Exercise not only improves your cardiovascular health, it’s also beneficial for your brain. Have you ever heard of the runner’s high? It’s no lie! Studies have shown that high-intensity physical activity causes the body to release endorphins, also known as feel-good chemicals. Those with depression often have lower levels of endorphins.

Exercise also spurs the release of growth factors in the brain which causes nerve cell growth. This allows for new connections in the brain are made and brain function to increase. Improved brain function along with the release of endorphins can help to relieve the symptoms of depression.

  1. You Can Take Your Mind Off of Things

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. When you’re dealing with depression, it’s hard to think positively. But, wrapping yourself in negativity and doubt only makes the condition even worse. Though exercise isn’t the most exciting or fun activity in the world, it does take your mind off of things.

If you’re focusing on running, chances are you won’t have the time to think negative thoughts. Or if you take up weightlifting, your mind will be preoccupied with focusing on your form. Taking your mind off of things may be just what you need to get over a slump or to minimize depression symptoms.

  1. You Can Set Attainable Goals

Depression is known to impact self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence. After deciding to incorporate exercise into your daily life, you can start to set goals for yourself that are simple and straightforward. Aim to run a 5K in the next year or set a goal to walk at least a mile a day. When you set goals, you have something to work towards. Once you meet a goal, you’ll feel accomplished and proud of yourself. By simply meeting goals, you can improve your self-esteem and have the assurance that you can do anything you put your mind to.

  1. Exercise Creates Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Depression has shown to impair the brain’s ability to adapt to new things. Because of this, people often get stuck in a loop of negativity and turn to unhealthy habits in order to cope and deal with depression symptoms.

Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the impacts of depression. Others dwell on their condition and do nothing to treat the symptoms. By partaking in exercise, you’re taking on a healthy coping mechanism.

  1. Exercise May Help You Sleep Better at Night

Depression can cause sleep problems and vice versa, sleep problems can worsen depression symptoms. The good news is that a solid workout can improve your nightly sleep. In fact, 10 minutes of aerobic exercise like biking or walking can drastically improve your shut-eye. At the same time, exercise also reduces the risk of sleep disorders. It’s a true win/win!

Working out in the morning or afternoon may have the biggest impact on your ability to get a good night’s sleep but exercise at a time that works for you is better than no exercise at all.

Getting Motivated

Even after understanding the benefits of exercise as it relates to depression, finding the motivation to get started is hard. When you’re in the depths of depression, you probably have minimal energy and little interest in most things. To get yourself motivated to exercise, start small. Go for a 5 minute walk outside or sprint up the road. Over time you’ll find that you naturally exercise for longer and it feels like much less of a chore.

Once you’ve found the motivation to get moving, set a goal to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Moderate exercise options include:

  • Running or jogging
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Boxing
  • Heavy weightlifting

The key to sticking with exercise is to find something you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to run if you’re just not a runner. The important part is to take on an activity that gets your heart going.


When you’re dealing with the effects of depression, exercise is likely the last thing on your mind. But, once you get out there and get moving, you’ll quickly realize that physical activity is extremely beneficial in keeping depression symptoms at bay.