How does exercise help depression?

Everyone struggles with feeling low or sad from time to time. For some of us, these feelings can last weeks or months. When a low mood lasts more than 2 weeks, it could be an indicator of depression.

A depressed man sitting with his head in his hands

Depression can leave people unable to concentrate on or complete basic tasks, unable to enjoy life and unable to feel hopeful for the future. If you're experiencing the symptoms of depression it's important to reach out to a health professional. But, along with medical help, therapy and the support of our friends, exercise can also help to lessen the symptoms of depression.

How does exercise when depressed help?

Low intensity exercise completed over a sustained time period encourages nerve cells to grow and create new connections, which can help to relieve symptoms of depression. Exercise helps you to sleep better. By burning energy and tiring your body, you're more likely to get a better nights sleep, which then helps your mood the following day. Exercise can provide a distraction from worries or intrusive thoughts. Intense exercise, in particular, forces you to be present and can provide a welcome break from your anxieties. Exercise releases those well-known feel good chemicals that can improve your general sense of well-being

How can I use exercise to help with depression?

  1. Start small and manageable. A 10 minute walk everyday may be more helpful in the long term than one intense workout a month. 
  2. Keep it enjoyable. To make exercise a consistent part of your life, you can't hate it. Any exercise can help with depression so pick something that you like to do and start there
  3. Depression by it's nature can stop you from doing things like exercise. Let a friend or family member know that you want to try and exercise more and see if they can encourage you along or provide some support
  4. Seek professional medical help. They may be able to formulate the ideal plan of action for you!