Exercise as a Treatment for Depression

Exercise for mental health

I have long maintained that the benefits of exercise extend far beyond any physical goal or achievement. As I’ve said before, I’m never more than one workout away from a better mood. It doesn’t matter how bad of a day I’ve had, a brisk workout always gets me back on track. Within minutes I notice myself feeling better (physically and mentally).

To no surprise, I’m not alone in recognizing the mental benefits of exercise. Anyone who has spent any time training could tell you the same thing. The connection between the body and mind is impossible to deny. New research even suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression (see below).

Exercise as a treatment for depression – Abstract

Exercise and Depression

For starters, it is worth noting that I’m not a doctor and I’m not depressed. With that said, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that depression is a serious problem in the world today. I’d venture to guess that we all know someone who has been clinically diagnosed with depression. Therefore, it’s great to see exercise receiving attention as a possible treatment.

As quoted within the abstract above:

“Our data strongly support the claim that exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression.”

As Expected

When examining new research, I always strive to review the material with an open mind. Personal opinion isn’t relevant to evidence-based research so it’s best to leave it out of the equation. In other words, rather than jumping to conclusions, I let the evidence speak for itself. After all, the evidence is the only conclusion that matters.

Nevertheless, the human side of me will occasionally read through a study in hopes of proving what I’ve always thought to be true. That was the case as I read through the full text regarding the effects of exercise on depression. The conclusion is exactly what I expected it to be.

Thinking back on my 20+ years of training, exercise has helped me through some difficult times. I’ve always viewed brisk exercise as my own form of therapy. It’s inevitable that every session ends with me becoming a better version of myself. Even if it is just a slight change in mood, the difference is undeniable. I always walk out feeling better than I did when I started.

Final Thoughts

While my own mood swings pale in comparison to clinical depression, I’m happy to see that science supports what many of us have always thought to be true. Exercise undoubtedly provides numerous physical and mental benefits. And fortunately, you don’t need to suffer from depression to experience these benefits.

Speaking for myself, I often joke that the world is a better place when I’m training. My mood improves, I think clearer thoughts, and I’m a better person to be around. Perhaps the world is really a better place when everyone is exercising however. Research seems to be pointing in that direction.

And while that might sound crazy to someone who never trained, I’m sure it makes perfect sense to those who have been around the block.

Related Entry:


“The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength.” – Henry Rollins


  1. I have clinically diagnosed Depression and I can totally confirm what you wrote from personal experience. My mood ALWAYS improved in the last 3 years, when I left the house for a walk or exercising or parcour. Now I am almost everday outdoors because
    of the Summerwheather and my mood is positive consistently, not like in the rest of the year.

  2. Great article Ross!

    I currently have a cold so my mood is a little down compared to normal. It’s at these times that I’d particularly like to get an intense workout in to lift my spirits but I can’t because it will only delay or make my cold worse.

  3. I totally agree. I have something of a genetic disposition towards depression albeit only mild, my Dad having been clinically depressed on several occasions. For us exercise is undeniable in it’s benefit, the concern is when injury or illness prevents or limits exercise. We are yet to find anything close to as effective in it’s prevention.

  4. When my son died, the regular workout helped me to stay away from alcohol. Boxing and exercises were one of few things that motivated me to stay alive while still being a head and example for the rest of my family.

  5. Just re-reading this article. I haven’t been able to exercise for almost two weeks as I got a bad infection.
    For me, training with weights or bodyweight doesn’t have the same mood-altering effects as cardio. Hard cardio (enough to get a good sweat going) leaves me feeling energized and lifts any mental fog. Hard weight training can actually have the opposite effect. It can leave me feeling a little down. So, it’s very important for me to keep my weight training brief and not-to-failure. When I do go to failure, workouts are short on those days.

  6. I share the thought bro. Working out hasn’t just helped me build a more functional body but it has dramatically improved my thinking capacity, confidence, and mood in general. Being a blogger, I myself spend most of my on computers and this is the best time off I could’ve from work. 😀

  7. Nice article! I always find no matter what you are going through in life working out will help! It give’s you a different prospective of things once you finish a workout!
    All the best,
    Harry Simonis

  8. I’ve had issues with anxiety attacks and depression and I can say as long as you train in a way that’s demanding yet leaves enough in the tank so you’re not overwhelming the central nervous system by training to failure-it’s all good. World record power lifter Chris Duffin has said the same thing about volume- you stay submaximal and don’t max out all too often as high volume at close to peak intensity yet not at or over it will lead to the positive adaptations you desire over time. It’s so true. Any way you look at it exercise improves your life but you have to make time for recovery and not overtrain or you’ll burn out if you don’t train smart.

    Also, if you do have some depression or related issues look into the alternative health scene man (quality blogs like Dr. Weil, Julia Ross-San Francisco based author of the awesome book “The Mood Cure”, etc.) and go to a good health food store and ask the. (B vitamins, fish oil, herbs-it all helps and is legit for helpline this form of human suffering).

    Honestly, on days when I feel really blue I love to work on my striking skills on the bag and envision and apply in the session what moves a great fighter would do- one round I’m Bones Jones, another Mike Tyson, another Bernard Hopkins, another Anderson Silva, another Vitor Belfort, another Conor McGregor, and another Joe Frazier (I’ve basically listed all of my favorite fighters). I’ve always admired World Chapion level combat athletes and events since I was a small kid. It’s to me what the NFL is to a lot of people (Americans at least). I really get off on the variety round to round-throwing spinning elbows and heel Kicks one round and head hunting with inside punches the next or circling and waiting to brutalize the legs with intense leg kicks and move in for a nasty Muay Thai clinch after dropping some leg kicks and power punches from the outside.

  9. Dude I’m a little late to the party but awesome post! My head was nodding “yes” to every sentence. Training is the most under-utilized antidepressant. The Rock might be a bit out there but he’s always preaching “cheaper than therapy.” Although The Rock, is well, The Rock, he’s 100% spot on. I know whenever I’m restless or going through a rough patch, moving some heavy ass weights always seems to do the trick.

    Keep the blue side up.

  10. Everybody goes through good and bad times. It’s as old as mankind,and it’s even referred to in the Bible. There is no better antidote to bad times than focusing your mind to be pushing your body.

  11. Sorry for the late post. I only now just came across this article…good stuff. The human body’s physiological counter-response to intense physical exertion is to produce endorphins. Endorphins reduce the body’s perception of pain, and they produce a “feel-good” effect. This is the “runner’s high” that you hear runners talk about, which kicks in after a certain period of prolonged running (anywhere from 1-3 miles depending on your fitness level). The action of endorphins is just one of the many ways that exercise can help with depression. WebMD has a good summary of it: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression

  12. I don’t have depression, but like all of us, I’ve felt the occasional bout of sadness. The feelings intensified deeply when my father died a few years ago, and I realized it was exercise that kept me sane. Today, I exercise every day and it’s hugely thanks to the feel-good feelings I get from working out. Yes, even more than building a strong body, though that’s one awesome bonus I wouldn’t want to pass up on.

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