7 Great Exercises to Ease Depression (2023)

Depression

Exercise may trigger feel-good chemicals in your brain that help alleviate symptoms of depression.

ByWyatt MyersMedically Reviewed byAllison Young, MD

Reviewed:

Medically Reviewed

Exercise isn’t a depression cure-all — there’s no such thing. But plenty of research has shown that exercise can reduce or even prevent symptoms of depression.

Among people with depression and similar health conditions, exercise appears to have substantial mental health benefits. For instance, a review published online in August 2019 in the Journal of Neurology found that exercise can significantly improve depressive symptoms and quality of life when used as an add-on therapy to usual treatment — and the more exercise, the better, researchers noted.

Earlier, a large study published in January 2018 in The American Journal of Psychiatry concluded that engaging in physical activity of any intensity for at least one hour each week could prevent 12 percent of future cases of depression.

What makes a fitness routine an excellent addition to your depression treatment plan? There are likely multiple factors. Biologically, exercise can increase certain chemicals in the brain that can help form new brain cells and new connections between brain cells.

In addition to the direct effects exercise has on the brain, other physical changes that occur with exercise, such as cardiovascular fitness and improved metabolic health, promote brain health indirectly.

Psychologically, exercise is a great way to improve self-esteem and self-efficacy, as there are small goals, such as walking or running a certain distance or for a certain amount of time, that you can work toward achieving. And socially, exercise — particularly when done in a class setting or with a friend or partner — can strengthen your relationships with others.

If you need help becoming more active or if you simply want to try new activities, here are seven great exercises that can help ease depression symptoms.

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7 Great Exercises to Ease Depression (2)

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Go for a Run for an All-Natural Mood Boost

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“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.

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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.

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Combine Yoga With Other Treatments to Feel Even Better

7 Great Exercises to Ease Depression (5)

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 astudy 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.

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Relieve Stress With Graceful Tai Chi Moves

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Like yoga, tai chi is another Eastern tradition that might help ease life with depression. Specifically, this slow, gentle practice may help reduce stress and relieve symptoms of depression, according to a review article published in April 2019 in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Practicing tai chi in a group setting may also play a role in depression relief. “A group class can reinforce a sense of autonomy and connectedness with others. You can also develop a social support network in an exercise class that you might not form when exercising alone,” says Hafeez.

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Walk Regularly to Help Ease the Blues

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Simply putting one foot in front of the other may be the trick to feeling better — that’s because walking is an aerobic exercise that’s suited for almost everyone. All it takes is a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes, and you’re ready to go.

“Practical wisdom suggests that doing something is better than doing nothing in terms of physical activity,” says Muzina. If depression has made you sedentary, start off slowly and gradually increase time and distance, he advises.

Hafeez agrees. “If you set too high of expectations, you may self-blame and feel guilty if you don’t meet those expectations. Set expectations that are realistic, such as going on a five-minute walk,” she explains.

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Get a Healthy Dose of Sunlight by Heading Outdoors

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If you enjoy being outdoors, even simple activities such as gardening, throwing a ball around with your kids, or washing your car may do your mood some good. One reason may be that sunlight has been shown to facilitate increases in serotonin, a mood-supporting brain chemical. Drops in serotonin during the darker, colder months have been linked to some cases of seasonal affective disorder.

“Choose whatever [outdoor activity] works for you, depending on your functioning level, energy, and preferences,” advises Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the author of Postpartum Depression for Dummies.

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Break Out of a Funk by Bouncing

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Having a hard time finding an exercise you enjoy? One simple strategy is to bounce! Jumping on a mini trampoline, also known as a rebounder, is a fun way to work your cardiovascular system without taxing your joints.

“You don’t need to jump but bend your knees and bounce as quickly as you can for a few minutes,” says Bennett. “This is an easy way to oxygenate your brain and get some endorphins flowing.”

When bouncing on a trampoline, Hafeez explains, your brain will release serotonin as well as oxytocin — another mood-boosting brain chemical.

“The spike in neurochemicals will give the feeling of being happy and help with depression,” Hafeez says. Rebounding exercises also increase blood flow to muscles, loosen overused muscles, help you relax, and promote better sleeping patterns, Hafeez adds.

How to Get Started

For people with depression, starting an exercise routine may not be easy. “It can be more difficult for people with depression to exercise because depression can reduce energy, cause body aches, increase pain perception, and disrupt sleep, resulting in less motivation to exercise,” says Hafeez.

Her recommendation? Start with five minutes a day of walking or any form of movement like yoga or tai chi. As you get into shape, you’ll begin to look forward to these relaxing breaks in your day and enjoy it more and more. “Five minutes of activity will become 10, 10 will become 15, etc.,” Hafeez says.

Additional reporting by Michelle Pugle.

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FAQs

How much exercise does it take to offset depression? ›

Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference.

What are three strategies for coping with depression? ›

Try these coping strategies if you're feeling depressed.
  • Stay in touch. Don't withdraw from life. ...
  • Be more active. Take up some form of exercise. ...
  • Face your fears. Don't avoid the things you find difficult. ...
  • Don't drink too much alcohol. For some people, alcohol can become a problem. ...
  • Try to eat a healthy diet. ...
  • Have a routine.

Can exercise get rid of depression? ›

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.

Can exercise replace antidepressants? ›

Exercise is as effective as antidepressants in some cases. One in 10 adults in the United States struggles with depression, and antidepressant medications are a common way to treat the condition. However, pills aren't the only solution. Research shows that exercise is also an effective treatment.

What is the best exercise for mental health? ›

Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.

What are the 7 coping strategies? ›

Here are 7 fundamental coping skills for managing stress:
  • Prioritize sleep, nutrition, and exercise. ...
  • Seek social support. ...
  • Get outside. ...
  • Practice meditation, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation. ...
  • Check your thoughts for negative bias. ...
  • Don't neglect your favorite activities. ...
  • Get professional help.
16 Nov 2020

What is the number one treatment for depression? ›

Medications and psychotherapy are effective for most people with depression. Your primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medications to relieve symptoms. However, many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional.

How do you overcome depression and overthinking? ›

Tips for addressing ruminating thoughts
  1. Distract yourself. When you realize you're starting to ruminate, finding a distraction can break your thought cycle. ...
  2. Plan to take action. ...
  3. Take action. ...
  4. Question your thoughts. ...
  5. Readjust your life's goals. ...
  6. Work on enhancing your self-esteem. ...
  7. Try meditation. ...
  8. Understand your triggers.
15 Nov 2019

What type of exercise reduces depression? ›

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.

What activities are good for depression? ›

9 Activity Types to Relieve Depression
  • Brisk walking.
  • Jogging.
  • Weight training.
  • Water aerobics.
  • Swimming.
  • Dancing.
  • Treadmill or elliptical use.
17 Jun 2020

What type of exercise has been shown to best reduce symptoms of depression? ›

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.

How long does it take for exercise to improve mental health? ›

Many studies look at the physical activity at different intensity levels and its impact on people's mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm, alertness).

What exercise helps anxiety? ›

Research shows aerobic exercise is especially helpful. A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from chronic anxiety.

Can no exercise lead to depression? ›

Researchers found that sleep problems, a lack of energy, and physical inactivity may lead to a depressed mood and mood changes. The findings reverse conventional wisdom that depression leads to physical inactivity and show that the opposite may be true.

What vitamin is a natural antidepressant? ›

Vitamin B-3 and Vitamin B-9 can help people with depression because B vitamins help the brain manage moods. Vitamin D, melatonin and St. John's Wort are recommended for seasonal depression. Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and vitamin C may also help with depression.

What can I take in place of an antidepressant? ›

Several treatments can be used instead of antidepressants for treating depression and other mental health conditions.
  • Talking therapies. Cognitive behavioural therapy. ...
  • Exercise. ...
  • Self-help groups. ...
  • Lithium. ...
  • Electric shock treatment.

What works better than antidepressants? ›

At 10 months, exercise was more effective than antidepressant medication. To get the antidepressant benefits of exercise, walk like you're late for 45 minutes 4-5 times a week. In addition, do weight training twice a week as it can increase testosterone, which improves mood, memory, and motivation.

What are 5 mental illnesses that are reduced by exercise? ›

Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you don't have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits.

What are 6 ways exercise helps your mental health? ›

Mental benefits of exercising every day
  • mood lifting.
  • decrease in depression symptoms.
  • decrease in anxiety symptoms.
  • stress reduction.
  • deeper sleep.
  • reduction in risk for dementia.
  • improved cognitive functioning.
  • anger management.

What are the three A's of coping? ›

In this decision-making process, it is helpful to approach the situation from the perspective of the three "A's" --- alter, avoid, and accept. Look at each stress-producing situation and ask, "Can I alter this situation, can I avoid it, or must I accept it?"

What are the 5 positive coping skills? ›

What are some common coping strategies?
  • Lower your expectations.
  • Ask others to help or assist you.
  • Take responsibility for the situation.
  • Engage in problem solving.
  • Maintain emotionally supportive relationships.
  • Maintain emotional composure or, alternatively, expressing distressing emotions.
24 Nov 2020

What is the first drug of choice for depression? ›

SSRIs are usually the first choice medicine for depression because they generally have fewer side effects than most other types of antidepressant. As well as depression, SSRIs can be used to treat a number of other mental health conditions, including: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

What is the new medicine for depression? ›

Esketamine can trigger new connections in your brain too. You may start to see improvements in your depression within hours or days of using it, Sanacora says. Esketamine offers lifesaving hope for people with suicidal thoughts and relief for people with treatment-resistant depression.

What are the main causes of depression? ›

Causes - Clinical depression
  • Stressful events. Most people take time to come to terms with stressful events, such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown. ...
  • Personality. ...
  • Family history. ...
  • Giving birth. ...
  • Loneliness. ...
  • Alcohol and drugs. ...
  • Illness.

How do I stop dwelling on my past mistakes? ›

The good news is that there are effective solutions for breaking yourself out of this rut, and they're simpler than you might think.
  1. Identify your most common triggers. ...
  2. Get psychological distance. ...
  3. Distinguish between ruminating and problem solving. ...
  4. Train your brain to become non-stick. ...
  5. Check your thinking for errors.
25 Feb 2019

How do I stop being in my head? ›

9 Ways to Get out of Your Head
  1. Meditate. ...
  2. Try an intense workout. ...
  3. Pay more attention to the outside world. ...
  4. Focus entirely on your breathing. ...
  5. Watch an entertaining TV series. ...
  6. Don't fight your thoughts. ...
  7. Regularly write down your troubling thoughts. ...
  8. Live in the present moment.

Which type of exercise helps to improve mood? ›

Aerobic exercise and weight training.

Both types of exercise increase your heart rate and release feel-good endorphins in the brain. Try doing a combination of both, such as a Zumba class followed by a short session lifting light weights.

Does walking help anxiety? ›

Walking provides the best of both worlds. It offers the physical benefits of exercise while also boosting your emotional well-being. In fact, walking regularly can help ease symptoms related to chronic mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

How do you exercise your mind? ›

These exercises can improve just about everything in your life because, if you think about it, your brain is at the core of everything you do.
  1. Play games. ...
  2. Read a variety of books. ...
  3. Use all your senses. ...
  4. Daily meditation. ...
  5. Learn a new skill. ...
  6. Train your brain.
24 Jan 2022

What happens to your brain when you exercise? ›

Exercise feeds the brain

An increase in blood flow is not only extremely beneficial, it is essential. Exercise induces good blood flow to deliver all the nutrients required to carry out the brain's job, while it also increases production molecules important to brain function, including memory.

How can I reduce anxiety immediately? ›

How to calm down quickly
  1. Breathe. One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. ...
  2. Name what you're feeling. ...
  3. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. ...
  4. Try the “File It” mind exercise. ...
  5. Run. ...
  6. Think about something funny. ...
  7. Distract yourself. ...
  8. Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)
22 Jun 2021

How long does it take for exercise to change your brain? ›

For example, one magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan study revealed that in older adults, six months of exercise training increases brain volume. Another study showed that shrinkage of the hippocampus (a brain region essential for learning and memory) in older people can be reversed by regular walking.

How long does it take for exercise to affect the brain? ›

(Think of them as a neurochemical “bubble bath” for your brain.) It only takes between 10 and 30 minutes of daily physical activity to instantly life your mood. No gym membership? Take a short walk, or use the stairs instead of the elevator.

How can I improve my mental health quickly? ›

5 steps to mental wellbeing
  1. Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. ...
  2. Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. ...
  3. Learn new skills. ...
  4. Give to others. ...
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

How do I relax my nerves and muscles? ›

If you're short on time but need to calm down fast, these quick in-the-moment tips can help.
  1. Get some fresh air. The temperature and air circulation in a room can increase your anxiety or anger. ...
  2. Fuel your body. ...
  3. Chew gum. ...
  4. Listen to music. ...
  5. Dance it out. ...
  6. Watch funny videos. ...
  7. Write it down. ...
  8. Squeeze a stress ball.
9 Feb 2021

Why does sitting still make me anxious? ›

The C-PAN team suggests the link between sedentary behavior and anxiety could be due to disturbances in sleep patterns, social withdrawal theory and poor metabolic health.

What are 5 things you can do to help relieve anxiety? ›

Tips to help combat anxiety
  1. Behavioral therapy.
  2. Deep breathing.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Journaling.
  5. Meditation.
  6. Reading.
  7. Socializing, following pandemic guidelines of social distancing, masking and hand hygiene)
  8. Speaking with your health care provider.
10 Feb 2021

How long until exercise improves depression? ›

It's unclear how long you need to exercise, or how intensely, before nerve cell improvement begins alleviating depression symptoms. You should begin to feel better a few weeks after you begin exercising. But this is a long-term treatment, not a onetime fix. "Pick something you can sustain over time," advises Dr.

Can you beat depression with exercise? ›

Whether you live with depression or have simply been feeling down lately, exercise can really help lift your mood. Physical activity can improve symptoms of depression, reduce stress levels, and support both your mental and physical health.

What's the best time to exercise? ›

Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., your body temperature is at its highest. This may mean you'll be exercising during the window of time your body is most ready, potentially making it the most effective time of day to work out.

Can working out release trapped emotions? ›

A session of intense exercise commonly makes us feel pretty good — it boosts positive emotions and lowers negative ones.

How much exercise does it take to change your mood? ›

Mood-boosting exercises

The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week. If that seems like too much to take on, try starting out with 10- to 15-minute sessions and gradually increasing your time each week.

What are the best techniques to manage depression? ›

10 Ways to Cope With Depression
  • Lifestyle Factors That Affect Mood. When you have depression, you can find ways to take control of your life and manage your treatment even beyond medications. ...
  • Express Yourself in Writing. ...
  • Stick to a Schedule. ...
  • Depend on Others. ...
  • Enjoy the Emotional Benefits of Exercise. ...
  • Say No to Liquor.

Where is guilt stored in the body? ›

Body and Mind

The positive emotions of gratefulness and togetherness and the negative emotions of guilt and despair all looked remarkably similar, with feelings mapped primarily in the heart, followed by the head and stomach.

Where is trauma stored in the body? ›

Ever since people's responses to overwhelming experiences have been systematically explored, researchers have noted that a trauma is stored in somatic memory and expressed as changes in the biological stress response.

How do you release built up sadness? ›

Things you can try right now
  1. Check in. Ask yourself how you feel right now. ...
  2. Use “I” statements. Practice expressing your feelings with phrases like “I feel confused. ...
  3. Focus on the positive. It might seem easier to name and embrace positive emotions at first, and that's OK. ...
  4. Let go of judgement. ...
  5. Make it a habit.
31 Mar 2020

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