Can Exercise Really Treat My Depression?

You’ve likely already heard that exercise can help treat depression and, if you suffer from depression, you’ve probably already had at least one well-meaning aunt, cousin or neighbor tell you to ditch your antidepressant medication and sign up for a half marathon instead. And while it’s likely not a good idea to stop taking your medication for depression, there is some wisdom in the idea.

A study of moderately depressed older adults demonstrated a significant decrease in depressive symptoms for participants who exercised by walking 20 to 40 minutes, 3 times a week. This study compared the effects on those in the walking group to the effects on those who participated in a social support group 3 times a week. Those who walked showed greater improvement in depressive symptoms than those who participated in the social support group. The results of this study indicate that even moderate exercise, a few times a week can have a powerful impact on mood.

Additional research has demonstrated lasting positive effects on mood for participants who engaged in a 12 week aerobic exercise program. Participants experienced significant decreases in depression symptoms immediately following completion of the 12 week program but, more impressively, these participants continued to demonstrate symptom reduction, up to a year after completing the 12 week exercise program.

Many additional studies have demonstrated the positive effects of regular exercise on mood and while many studies have focused on the effects of aerobic exercise on mood, a key study by Doyne et al. showed that the positive effects of weight lifting on mood were comparable to the effects of aerobic exercise.

If you are suffering with depression or if you have been treated successfully for depression with medication, engaging in regular exercise will likely be beneficial and may result in the need for less medication. Finding exercises that are enjoyable is critical to creating and maintaining an exercise habit. To help determine your personal exercise style, check out this short quiz.

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