Can Exercise Cure Depression?

Can Exercise Cure Depression?
Most people have or will rub shoulders with depression at least once in their lifetime. In America depression is at an all-time high, and antidepressants are one of the most prescribed medications. However, our knowledge about the causes and treatment of depression has grown, and many people are turning to alternative treatments. One such treatment is exercise, which has many mental, emotional and physical benefits for someone struggling with depression.

Produces endorphins

Endorphins are the body's natural "feel good" hormones. Actually a type of opiate produced in the central nervous system, endorphins are released in response to physical stress and lessen pain. The amount of endorphins produced varies from person to person, but these hormones are usually released in response to sustained exercise. They are thought to play a major role in the "runner's high" that athletes get during hard, long workouts.

Decreases harmful stress hormones

The emotional, mental and physical stress involved with depression causes a heightened level of stress reaction hormones in the body. Exercise helps to restore a proper balance of these hormones and instigate bodily repair.

Increases physical and mental well-being

Dr. Stephan Cembrowicz and Dr. Dorcas Kingham state that anxiety and low self esteem can be directly treated through exercise as it gives physical relaxation, a sense of well being and confidence. Exercise works to build a person up both physically and psychologically, which goes a long ways towards fighting negative thoughts, feelings and anxiety. But it's important to start slow and work up when beginning an exercise regimen. Begin with just fifteen minutes three or four times a week of an exercise that gets you a little out of breath and build up from there.

Decreases fatigue

The kind of fatigue felt from long periods of inactivity and being out of shape is completely different from that felt after challenging yourself physically. If a person stays faithful to an exercise program, they will notice improvements in their energy reserves. They'll be able to work through stressful situations easier and be able to go longer and harder when needed without the mental and emotional fatigue normally incurred. However, someone struggling with fatigue in depression will usually have a decreased personal drive so exercising may not be easy.

Acts as a distraction

When someone is struggling with depression, they often battle with being completely focused on themselves, along with harmful and critical thoughts or worries. Exercise serves as an excellent distraction to help pull their minds away from those things and get them looking outside of themselves.

Exercising out-of-doors increases levels of melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone released from the pineal gland. According to M.D. Susan Paolucci it has an effect on mood, sleep, sex drive and energy. Its production and release is triggered by natural sunlight.


Although exercise will seldom cure depression on its own, it has become a cornerstone of modern treatment for depression. Dr. Stephen Cembrowicz has stated, "We now have good evidence that exercise is effective against depression." Only you have to be patient to reap the results. It may take as many as ten weeks for someone to really start seeing benefits from exercise.

Article Written By Isaac Billings

Residing in northern Michigan, Isaac Billings began writing in 2009, with articles appearing on eHow, Trails and A wilderness EMT-paramedic and wilderness instructor, Billings enjoys writing about the outdoors, running, health and nutrition. He holds an Associates of Applied Science in emergency medicine from North Central Michigan College.

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