Research Identifies Strong Link between Exercise and Lesser Symptoms of Depression

Research Identifies Strong Link between Exercise and Lesser Symptoms of Depression


By now you must’ve encountered a million people who tell you to exercise if you are struggling with any physical or psychological issue. Well, they aren’t wrong! A recent research published in the British Medical Journal on 14 February, 2024, has proven that exercising indeed helps reduce symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) equivalent to the effects of psychotherapy, usual care, placebo tablets and so on. “Exercise may be an effective complement or alternative to drugs and psychotherapy” say the authors of this study.

Major Depressive Disorder, also known as clinical depression, is characterized by prolonged periods of sadness or low mood extending for at least 2 weeks and can persist throughout an individual’s lifetime. Other symptoms include loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, lack of motivation, disturbed sleep schedule, changes in appetite, lack of interest in social interactions and so on. An impeccable meta analysis of 218 unique studies from around the world comprising 14170 participants was carried out by researchers from 4 countries namely Australia, Denmark, Spain and Finland. The participants were selected on the basis of whether they were diagnosed with or scored high on self report measures (such as Beck’s Depression Inventory- II) of Major Depressive Disorder.

Also Read: Habits to Help in Avoiding Depression

It was ensured that the participants were receiving intervention (for at least one week) with some form of psychotherapy which included a substantial exercise component. For treatments that included an exercise component, MDD showed moderate reduction. Furthermore, people suffering from multiple illnesses also reported the same results. In fact, clinical practices of US, UK and Australia already do recommend physical activity within the course of treatment for depression. The research also made distinctions based on the type of exercises and the prescribed intensity. We have elaborated on this further in the next section.

If Exercise, then What Kind?

The researchers had defined “exercise” as “planned, structured and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.” Types of exercises included cycling, dance, mixed aerobic exercises, strength training, tai chi, walking or jogging, and yoga. They had assessed the effect of each of them, as well as when combined with medication, therapy, and other exercises.

The study highlighted walking or jogging, yoga and strength training as being more effective than other exercises. Moreover, yoga and strength training were also more agreed upon by the participants over other exercises. A strong link was also established between effectiveness and intensity. More intense exercises yielded more fruitful results.

Also Read: Habits to Help in Avoiding Depression

The results were so favorable that exercise could actually be complementary to psychotherapy and antidepressants for treating depression. It could even be an alternate course of treatment! Moreover, it was found that when people exercise by their own choice, their levels of depression reduce significantly than when they exercise under pressure from any other authority or out of compliance.

How To Inculcate The Habit To Exercise

Regular exercise or having a schedule which lets you have room for some sort of physical activity can help deal with a number of psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. A habit can be formed within 21 days. If it is a chosen form of exercise, it will further boost your mood and have a better effect.

You can exercise for any amount of time suitable to you during any time in the day. According to the NHS, adults should give 150 minutes of the week to moderate-intensity activity to stay healthy. If you are not in the habit of exercising this frequently, you must gradually build up your stamina. Even 10 minutes of brisk walking is a great step to start! Going on walks can help you clear your mind as well as process emotions better. Exercises like yoga can help regulate your breathing which is very helpful if you deal with anxiety. In fact, meditation and yoga are very commonly recommended by therapists for anxiety treatment.

Also Read: Mothers with Depression Delay in Response

Power of Exercise for Mental and Physical Health

To get started, you can find any exercise that you enjoy doing. You can even make it a social outing by partaking in, for example, yoga workshops, spinning classes, or even start a walking group! If you already partake in physical activities that interest you then you can build upon those until you are culminating 150 minutes a week. Exercise as an alternate treatment for depression is not a new concept. Research done by Craft and Perna in 2004 also found that exercise reduced the levels of depressions across age and gender. Furthermore, prolonged duration of exercise was more effective than shorter durations. Cases where the exercise intervention programs ran for longer reported more reduction in depressive symptoms.

In conclusion, exercise of any kind can be extremely beneficial for your mental and physical health. Movement of the body and its connection to psychological health has been heavily backed by research since the 1900s. Even the smallest amount of psychical movement can have beneficial impacts.

  • Noetel, M., Sanders, T., Gallardo-Gómez, D., Taylor, P. L., Del Pozo Cruz, B., Van Den Hoek, D., Smith, J., Mahoney, J., Spathis, J., Moresi, M., Pagano, R., Pagano, L., Vasconcellos, R., Arnott, H., Varley, B. J., Parker, P. D., Biddle, S. J. H., & Lonsdale, C. (2024). Effect of exercise for depression: systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. The BMJ, e075847.
  • Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research. (1985, April 1). PubMed.
  • Depression (major depressive disorder) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2022, October 14). Mayo Clinic.
  • Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 6(3).

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