Why does exercise help with depression

Depression often overwhelms you. You want the annoying feelings to go away, but you may not feel that it is possible to get rid of them. Why does exercise help with depression?

You can even take medication to relieve depression. But it can be a completely natural way to relieve specific symptoms of depression. Research shows that regular physical activity increases mental health and helps people with a sudden onset of “blues” and people diagnosed with clinical depression. When you live with a mood disorder, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. Nevertheless, evidence-based assessments have shown that exercise helps balance brain chemistry, clears your mind of stress, increases your self-confidence and self-esteem, and builds a pattern of resilience that can help you cope with challenging situations.

The depressed brain

Major depressive disorder and other forms of depression can:

  • Shrink specific brain areas such as the hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, frontal, and prefrontal cortex. When these parts of the brain are not working correctly, you may have trouble getting things done and controlling your mood and emotions.
  • Inflammation of the brain can lead to impaired function of neurotransmitters. Low levels of a chemical called serotonin can make you feel tired, sad, and anxious. More miniature chemical messengers such as dopamine and norepinephrine can drain your motivation and energy and make you uninterested in doing activities you may have once enjoyed.
  • Prevent the amount of oxygen the brain receives, which can cause brain cells to die. When your brain is not getting enough oxygen, you may feel confused and restless.

Physical fitness can help restore imbalances and structural changes depression can cause.

Exercise and the brain

Exercise reduces inflammation in the brain and increases the amount of oxygen in your body. The brain can change how it is wired, works, and patterns. When you exercise, your brain switches and changes how it works. Exercise can relieve some of the stress depression causes in the brain by:

  • Increase the heart rate, pump more oxygen into the brain, and increase energy levels.
  • New connections in areas of the brain regulate your emotions, personality, and how you think and perceive the world around you.
  • Reduce the number of stress hormones in your body that nourish anxiety and depression.
  • Increase the number of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins to make you feel energetic, happy, and motivated.

Benefits of mental health training

Exercise can relieve the symptoms of depression by improving your mental health.

Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety

Stress can lead to depression, primarily if handled in unhealthy ways. No, exercise can and will not make anxiety disappear, but it can give you time to move away from the cycle of negative thoughts that nourish depression. Physical fitness is a healthy distraction. When you distract your thoughts and break up the mental obsession with negative thoughts, increased activity level reduces the number of stress hormones and releases endorphins, boosting your mood and giving you energy. When you stop exercising, you will have fewer stress hormones to deal with, and you may also have a better perspective on your situation.

Exercising increases your self-confidence and self-esteem

Exercise will make you feel better about yourself and your body. When you are depressed, you may feel worthless and insecure. You may even think that no one cares about you. Physical fitness can improve your self-esteem. When you feel confident, you are less likely to think negative thoughts. Exercise encourages the growth of neural connections in the hippocampus. When your brain remembers your emotional reactions, it switches to associating different emotions with your body in motion, which can help you increase your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Exercise can help you cope with challenging emotions

Regular physical activity builds flexibility and flexibility. When you have an exercise program, you get used to moving your body even when you do not want to. This type of resilience and flexibility is highly beneficial if you have a mood disorder such as depression. You teach your brain to continue when the body is uncomfortable when exercising. The hippocampus learns this pattern and remembers it. Your brain also knows that this type of resistance has positive rewards, including endorphins. When facing challenging situations, your mind remembers this pattern and releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, increasing motivation.

Best exercises to relieve depression

Common exercises used to relieve depression include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Swimming
  • Strength training
  • Other aerobic activities such as cycling, rowing, spinning, jogging, and using an elliptical trainer

How to get started exercising

As beneficial as physical fitness is, it can take some time to add exercise to your weekly routine. 

  • Start small. Start walking with your pet, take stairs instead of the elevator, or do some gardening or cleaning. These are easy ways to start incorporating exercise into your routine.
  • Work out with a friend. You can meet a friend to go for a walk, take a yoga class together, or even participate in a friendly competition. Whatever you choose, training with a friend can keep you accountable and motivated.
  • Stay consistent. Have 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. You can break it up the way you want, but make sure you are consistent. Consistency is more important than intensity when exercising.

Related articles:

How to exercise with depression

Curing depression with exercise


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