Depression Explained – How Exercise Affects Your Mood

Depression affects millions of people around the world. And while many will rely on prescription medication to ease their symptoms, there’s a simple and easy way to boost your mood in 60 minutes or less – exercise.


While exercise isn’t a “cure-all” for depression, it can help people with mild cases better manage their condition.

What is Depression?

Everyone feels sad or moody from time to time, but when these feelings become very intense and last for a long period of time (think several weeks or years), we define this condition as depression.

Many people feel depressed for seemingly no reason at all. This condition is more than just feeling low – it’s a very serious one that can have a tremendous impact on your mental and physical health.

Experts say that one in eight men and one in five women will suffer from depression at some point during their lifetime.

Unfortunately, we do not know the exact cause of depression, but we do know that there are a number of factors that could contribute to its development. Typically, this condition is not the result of a single event, but a combination of personal factors, long-term issues and recent events.

How Exercise Can Boost Your Mood

When the symptoms of depression are mild or moderate, exercise can serve as a helpful treatment aid. Studies have shown that staying active can be just as effective at treating depression as antidepressants and psychological therapy.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals. These chemicals reduce your perception of pain and also create a positive feeling in the body. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of runners say they feel euphoric after a good run, which is often referred to as a “runner’s high.”

Staying active can also:

  • Improve your energy level
  • Help you sleep better
  • Distract you from your everyday worries
  • Eliminate negative thoughts

And if you exercise with a group, you’ll feel less isolated and alone.

How to Get Started

The mental health benefits of exercise will largely depend on how long and how often you engage in physical activity. When you look at studies that support the idea of exercise as a depression treatment, you’ll find most used aerobic exercise during their research. And most of the time, participants exercise for 30 minutes or more, three days a week and for a minimum of eight weeks.

The trouble is that people who are depressed have a difficult time finding motivation to start an exercise routine. If you find yourself in this boat, use these tips to help you start an exercise plan that will help ease your depression symptoms:

  • Keep it simple, and start slowly. There’s no need to create a complicated workout routine. Start out by taking a walk each day – even if it’s just for five or ten minutes – or invest in a good rowing machine (check out PerfectRower to find one) for cardio workouts. Gradual changes over time will eventually snowball into dramatic life transformations.
  • Find something you love. Don’t force yourself to run if you hate it. Find something you enjoy doing. If you look forward to the activity, you’ll find it easier to stick to your routine.
  • Create a plan. While it doesn’t have to be complicated, it’s still important to create a workout plan for yourself. Knowing what you’re going to do each day will eliminate excuses and make it easier to stick to your routine.
  • Get friends involved. Working out with other people can help you stay on track and motivated. It will also give you a chance to socialize and boost your confidence.

While exercise may not be an advisable treatment for serious cases, it has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate depression. So get out there and get moving to boost your mood and lift your spirit.