Does Exercise Help Depression? Active Ways To Fight The Blues

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When you're experiencing the symptoms of mental health conditions, getting out of bed can feel overwhelming—possibly prompting many to neglect their workout and activity-based routines. However, exercise has actually been proven to have a positive effect on depression symptoms. In some cases, it can even be as effective as medication

If you’re looking for depression-related benefits, you don’t necessarily have to pursue high-impact exercise. A simple walk outdoors or a couple of bodyweight exercises can still help many to reap mental health benefits. 

While exercise isn't generally considered to be a cure-all for those suffering from depression, it can have a significant positive effect. Read on to learn more about other helpful supportive strategies, and the role that online therapy can play in managing symptoms of depression.

Can exercise really help my depression?

Depression and the body

Symptoms of depression in many can include difficulty finding pleasure in daily activities, lethargy, irritability and even physical pain. 

Depression can manifest in unique individual forms. If you believe that you could be experiencing symptoms of depression, speaking with a physician can be a helpful first step in improving your quality of life. 

Depression and exercise

Many experts believe that one of the ways exercise works to combat depression is by flooding the brain with endorphins—which are known to many as “feel-good chemicals” that can improve your mood.

In addition to the physical changes that come with exercise, researchers have also studied the psychological effect of exercise as it relates to depression. In this regard, physical exercise may serve as a healthy distraction from other depression-related symptoms, both physical and mental. Exercise can also fight depression by increasing self-efficacy, possibly helping people to feel more confident of their own abilities overall.

Along with these benefits, exercise can have even more positive effects depending upon what form it takes. Playing a sport, for instance, can help fight depression by cementing positive social connections with other people. Exercising outside, whether hiking, running or just enjoying a stroll, can give you a healthy dose of sunshine and vitamin D. Exercise can also improve self-image and self-esteem by improving your physical fitness and helping you get into better shape. 

While exercise shouldn't be the only method for treating depression, many might find that it has been shown to have a wealth of positive effects.

How to combat depression through exercise

Doctors generally recommend that patients get about two and a half hours, or 150 minutes, of activity a week, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That can be only a little over twenty minutes a day, making it a goal that can be within reach for many people.

If you want to give yourself a few days off of your exercise routine, you can try incorporating some form of exercise for half an hour every weekday—or set aside a few hours each weekend to incorporate a long hike or a pickup sport. 

Many might find more success in finding a form of exercise that works for them. If you take the time to do this, you may have an easier time remaining consistent with your routine.


Here are just a few forms of exercise that can help those experiencing depression and other mental health conditions:

  1. Hiking

If you enjoy the outdoors, you might consider incorporating a hike or two into your weekly routine. Many might have public parks nearby to use for this purpose, and many regions might have trail systems dedicated just to hiking. 

If you’re not sure what trails, parks or resources are around you for this form of activity, you might consider connecting with your local city hall. They can help you to find available areas to exercise in, providing you with all of the information you need to make your time a successful one. 

  1. Yoga

Yoga has been scientifically suggested to ease symptoms of both depression and anxiety disorders. Whether you're a beginner or a yoga fan, there are a variety of styles of yoga to choose from, as well as classes that are generally offered for different levels and physical abilities. 

Yoga can help improve physical strength, flexibility, posture and other areas of wellness and fitness for many. It’s generally regarded as a discipline centered in the practice of mindfulness and meditation, possibly offering additional mental health benefits above and beyond other forms of exercise. 

  1. High-intensity interval training

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, generally involves short bursts of strenuous exercise that can be followed by periods of rest. This form of exercise can involve both aerobic and anaerobic activities and can be a great way to break a sweat while improving one’s all-around health. 

As an added bonus, high-intensity interval training can be timed, and often has a relatively short duration to maximize the efficiency and impact of one’s exercise. 

If you're looking for a vigorous workout to incorporate into your day, you can begin to pursue HIIT—or you can work up to it with high-intensity conditioning at home, at the gym, or with a group.

  1. Running

Experienced runners might often speak of a runner's high, which many regard as a flood of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals to the brain that can occur during a run. 

While some might not experience this euphoric feeling right away, running can have impressive positive effects on both physical and mental health.

Running doesn’t have to occur outside for depression-reducing benefits, either. You can go for a run on a treadmill, around a track, on a trail— or just around the block. 

You can also choose to do it independently or in a group. Many runners enjoy running as part of a group, cheering each other on and holding each other accountable.

  1. Weightlifting

If you’re interested in building muscle, you might want to try weightlifting as a form of mental health-aligned exercise. Strength training can also have a significant effect on depression and mental health overall. 

Lifting weights has been scientifically suggested to reduce symptoms of depression while increasing physical fitness

Similarly to yoga, lifting weights can increase your ability to be mindful and present, possibly helping you to get in tune with your own body. At the end of a workout, many might feel refreshed both mentally and physically.

  1. Bodyweight exercises

Bodyweight exercises can be a helpful alternative for those looking to incorporate physical fitness into their routine without joining a gym or exploring the great outdoors. 

Focusing on exercises that you can do with little to no additional equipment, bodyweight exercises are generally considered to be a form of strength training that can include activities like pushups, lunges, planks, and more. 

Bodyweight exercises can be available to many, as they can be done anywhere there's a little extra space to move around—even if it's just your bedroom floor! 

The exercises can be customized according to your level of physical fitness, strengths, and weaknesses. Even just a few exercises a day can be enough to reap the benefits of physical activity in regard to mental health.

  1. Sports

Whether you're a sports fan or haven't been on a team since high school, group sports can be a helpful way to benefit from exercise while having fun with friends. 

No matter what sport you're interested in, there are often adult pickup leagues that cater to people looking for a fun, low-stress way to exercise. 

Whether you decide to join your local softball team or start a game of ultimate Frisbee with a couple of friends, sports can be a great form of exercise that can also have a positive effect on mental health.

  1. Swimming

Even if you prefer to spend your time at the beach, there are other workout options available that can still help you find a higher quality of life. For example: Swimming has been suggested to have a significant benefit for mental health and depression. 

Generally speaking, swimming combines the benefits of physical exercise and sunshine with the stress-relieving effects of cold water. Many people also experience a sense of calm while swimming, which can control breathing—possibly supporting a more peaceful and healthy state of mind in many.

Can exercise really help my depression?

Seeking additional support: How online therapy can help those living with depression

Are you living with depression or other mental health concerns? 

While exercise can be a great way for many to combat the symptoms of depression, it can also be a good idea to seek out professional help. BetterHelp's diverse selection of online therapy services can provide you with services designed to help you manage your mental health needs. 

Online therapy allows you to meet with a licensed therapist at a time that works with your schedule. There’s no need to go to an office—you can simply connect with your therapist anywhere you have an electronic device and an internet connection. This level of availability can be helpful to those living with depression, as the act of seeking help might currently feel overwhelming to many. 

Is online therapy effective? 

Online therapy has been scientifically suggested to be an effective means of support for many seeking help with depression, as well as other mental health conditions. 

A cited meta-analysis evaluated by the National Council on Aging has found that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for those living with the condition, possibly more so due to the reduced barriers to treatment. Benefits were observed across a variety of age groups and continued to last after treatment had concluded. 


Depression can feel overwhelming—and it can be easy for many to neglect other aspects of their physical, mental, and emotional health. Finding ways to keep up with physical activity can offer many depression-reducing benefits. Online therapy can also be a helpful resource for those looking for additional support. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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