Exercise and mental health: how does exercise help with depression?


Can exercise really replace antidepressants?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It’s commonly treated with antidepressants, which can be a very effective treatment.

However, it can take time to find an antidepressant that works for you, and some people experience bad side effects, so it’s also important to find non-pharmaceutical treatments that work or can be used alongside medication to ease symptoms. 

You’re probably familiar with some treatment options for depression, including but not limited to talking therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and meditation. One of the big ones is exercise, precisely because those ‘happy hormones’ can play a big role in alleviating the symptoms of depression (along with a lot of other bodily functions, as the human body is so complex).

Research has found that exercise does improve the symptoms of depression, improving mood, feelings of anxiety and stress levels. 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s definitely worth considering exercise as an important part of your treatment. However, don’t go throwing out the anti-depressants just yet – there have also been studies where the improvement was short-term, or where it was only helpful for those with very mild depression. 

The most generally accepted stance is that exercise is a fantastic treatment option for depression, but most effective when used alongside other treatments.

This can look different for different people. For example, you might take antidepressants but find that increasing your activity levels lowers your symptoms even more, or you might put cognitive behavioural therapy approaches into practice in your life while also making sure to exercise three times a week. 

It’s a long old slog finding what works for you when it comes to depression, so trying different treatment options at the same time can be a good approach. Always discuss these things with your doctor.


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