4 Reasons Why Exercise is the Best Drug for Depression

Varun Nagar

May 20, 2020

The fortunate individuals who haven’t experienced depression, find it difficult to understand the hardships faced by people who suffer from it. Author of The Guardian, Tim Lott summarizes it as: “Depression is actually much more complex, nuanced and dark than unhappiness—more like an implosion of self. In a serious state of depression, you become a half-living ghost.”

Victims of depression understand what a soul-killing experience it is; where even mundane tasks like getting out of bed are excruciating and feel like a burden.

The good news is that medication isn’t the only solution. A number of studies suggest that exercise could be a powerful counter to the debilitating effects of depression, allowing people to save on medical bills and curtail the intake of drugs with harmful side-effects.

Here’s how exercise can help depression:

1. It releases mood elevating hormones

Workouts release hormones like norepinephrine, which enhance cognitive thinking, facilitate learning, and improve one’s mood. However, that isn’t the only way exercise helps! The elevated heart rate resulting from workouts has the potential to reverse brain atrophy caused by stress. Physical activity also forces different systems of the body to communicate better, allowing the body to respond better to anxiety and stress.  

2. It improves confidence levels

People with obesity happen to be victims of low self-esteem, triggered by the fact that their appearance is different from everyone else’s. The inability to perform daily tasks and chores effortlessly when compared to others, takes a toll on their confidence and contributes to depression. Exercise helps in such  instances by releasing endorphins, and leads to weight loss, eventually.

3. It helps people with medical conditions lead better lives

One of my clients is a 45-year-old woman whose knees were badly damaged because of a thyroid condition. When I met her, her joint problem had restricted her ability to move around, which left her feeling isolated and depressed.

A year after she began training, she felt much fitter – she even started going on treks with her friends! She also seemed much happier. Exercise even led to a big improvement in her condition, and her doctor was able to reduce her thyroid medication from 150 to 50 mcg.

This is just one example of a client who adopted a fitness routine and went on to lead a healthier and happier life. I’ve seen how exercise can alleviate a host of problems such as diabetes, hypertension and several other chronic medical conditions and lifestyle diseases.

4. It can make you feel more energetic


In this time and age, most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle, putting us at risk of lifestyle disorders. In addition, the lack of physical activity compromises our ability to handle stress. Regular exercise can help fight stress, dispel negative emotions, and enables one to be more productive during the day; thus, leading to feelings of contentment and joy. Time to release those endorphins with a happiness workout?

What should be your exercise routine?

Brisk walking, strength training, aerobics and group exercises are considered good antidotes for depression. Strength training is particularly beneficial since it entails pushing the body to its limits, resulting not only in increased physical strength, but also greater mental strength. Simply put, your mindset changes from “I can’t” to “I can.”

Group sessions are also beneficial. Group workouts like spinning and aerobics, going for a daily walk with an exercise buddy, or any other exercise that incorporates meeting people, are highly recommended. The benefits come mainly in the form of motivation.

Thirty to 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day, six days a week, is generally considered ideal to keep a person healthy and ward off depression.  

Things to keep in mind

If you are a patient of depression, it’s very important to start physical activity of any kind under supervision. Start a workout regimen only after your doctor’s approval, and ensure a fitness coach monitors your regime, and tracks your progress.

Get ahead by setting goals—not just physical ones as you would do if you were aiming at weight loss, but mental goals such as exercising non-stop for a certain number of days. Reward yourself if you stick to your plan so that you stay on track.  and happier with regular exercise.

About the Author

Being in the fitness industry for the past 6 years, Varun has been a part of renowned fitness chains as a premium fitness trainer. A sports enthusiast and an U-19 cricketer for his state, fitness has always been his top priority. A Senior Fitness Coach with HealthifyMe, Varun is an ACE Certified Fitness Trainer who specialises in Body Transformation and Sports Conditioning.

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One response to “4 Reasons Why Exercise is the Best Drug for Depression”

  1. Very Nicely written, actually, workout helps us in all the way like in health, physically and mentally also. Doing workout atleast for 20-30 minutes a day is more than enough.

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