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The Many Benefits of Exercise for Depression

Last updated on April 13, 2021

One of the most debilitating conditions that a person can encounter is the state of depression. For many people who have never experienced depression, it can be difficult to understand what someone who is currently suffering with it is experiencing. 

For the person who is suffering it can be difficult to explain exactly what they are experiencing, since many times it is also tough for them to understand. 

The following information will provide you with a more clear understanding of what depression is, and how various types of both physical and mental exercise can help to alleviate its symptoms.

What Is Depression

Before we get into the scientific standpoint on depression, let’s get a clear understanding of what depression feels like. Depression feels like an overwhelming sense of uselessness, pointlessness, and lethargy. 

Let me explain this. When you are in a state of depression, you will feel as though you have no motivation for anything, nothing excites you, nothing interests you, and even the smallest tasks can feel unconquerable. 

Many people experience overwhelming sadness and distress, often times seemingly for no reason and in some cases the mind will dwell on negative and depressive thoughts, further enhancing and encouraging these feelings of depression. 

When you are depressed, the only thing that makes sense to you is the thought of curling up in bed and closing your eyes in the hope that the world and everything in it will just disappear. 

You lose all interest in what is going on in your life and it can seem that no matter how hard you try, or how hard your friends and family try to pull you out of this state, nothing ever works, as though you are falling deeper and deeper into a black hole.

So what does science and more specifically medicine say about depression? 

According to the modern viewpoint, there is no absolute understanding of the state of depression but it is certainly considered to be a serious mental health condition that, if left untreated, can affect people physically and mentally for days, weeks, months and even years. 

When diagnosing depression a doctor or mental health practitioner will take into consideration the following things:

Family History – It has been repeatedly observed that in people who suffer from depression there is a high likelihood that another family member or ancestor suffered from depression also.

Personality – People who place themselves under a lot of stress, or who worry a lot, have low self-esteem, find it difficult to handle criticism or who are overly self-critical or negative are more likely to experience depression since their mental states regularly reflect many concerns and problems.

Serious Medical Illness – A serious illness or other medical condition increases the chance of a person experiencing depression, due to the overwhelming thoughts about not getting well, or being incapacitated for long periods of time during the healing and recovery phases.

Drug & Alcohol Use & Abuse – Statistically many people who experience depression have a higher usage of drugs and alcohol, which has led to the development of a theory of collaboration between the consumption of drugs and alcohol with the development of depression.

Studies have proven that while many people experience great heights of happiness while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, in the long term the ability of their brain to produce ‘happy chemicals’ is negatively affected and leads many people deeper into depression and possible dependency or addiction.

Symptoms Of Depression

There are many symptoms that can be identified as associated with depression. When reading the following list, please take into account that just because a person is or has experienced some of these symptoms does not mean that they are suffering from depression. 

A diagnosis of depression is made by a doctor or a licensed mental health practitioner following diagnostic criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5).

Depression is not the same as an occasional low mood, sadness or lack of pleasure in once enjoyed activities, but instead the symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in work, social, and other areas of life.

  • Not everyone will experience all the symptoms
  • The symptoms can be severe or mild
  • The symptoms can vary based on the stage of depression
  • The symptoms are not stemming from substance abuse or some other medical condition

A diagnosis of depression is made by a doctor or a licensed mental health practitioner following diagnostic criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5).

Depression is much different than occasions sadness, low mood, or loss of interest, in fact, for a diagnosis of depression, symptoms must cause clinically significant impairment in work, social, and other areas of life.

  • Not everyone will experience every symptom, some may have a few, while others will have many
  • The signs and symptoms of depression can be severe or mild
  • The symptoms can vary based on the stage of depression
  • The symptoms are not attributable to substance abuse or some other medical condition

Five or more symptoms must have occurred during the same two weeks and either a depressed mood or a loss of interest must be present.

  • Persistent depressed mood that lasts at least most of the day and nearly every day 
  • Marked decrease in interest or pleasure in all, or almost all regular activities for most of the day and nearly every day
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Anger and irritability, including agitation, violent outbursts, unexplained rage 
  • Self-loathing, feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness, disappointment in self
  • Decrease in energy levels, extreme fatigue, body heaviness and sluggishness
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Having difficulty making decisions, problems with concentration, thinking or focusing on a task
  • Talking more slowly
  • unexplained aches and pains not helped by common treatments that have no known or evident cause
  • Restlessness and restless behavior, such as fidgeting or pacing
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much almost every day
  • Changes in appetite nearly every day or weight gain or loss not related to dieting, significant weight loss or gain of 5% of body weight in one month
  • Reckless behavior, such as reckless driving or excessive drinking

All of the above signs are associated with depression, though occasional experience of one or two of them is nothing to be concerned about, when you experience five or more symptoms during the same two week period along with either a depressed mood or a loss of interest then it would be wise to visit your health practitioner and discuss your concerns. 

Depression is something that millions of people suffer from, in the United States, about 16.1 million US adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2014, this equates to 6.7% of all U.S. adults.

Managing Depression

The best news is that depression is treatable, and besides conventional medicine, such as antidepressants and psychotherapy, there are many natural means to alleviating symptoms and improving quality of life. 

Now that we have a clearer understanding of some of the various symptoms and types of depression let’s have a look at what we can do to positively affect our mental and physical state when we are experiencing depression. 

Before we get into that, it has to be said that obviously, if you are experiencing depression you should seek medical advice from your chosen health practitioner. 

We won’t be covering the various aspects of medicine in this report because that is something that your health practitioner is fully qualified in, so the best medical course of treatment for you should be discussed with them. 

In this report, we will look at natural forms of physical and mental exercise that you can use to aid you in uplifting yourself from a state of depression, either as a complete alternative or as a partner to traditional medical techniques.

Exercise: The Mind-Body Connection

The mind is an incredibly powerful thing. It has the ability to inspire us, encourage us, motivate us, or stress us, overwhelm us or depress us. When we understand the intimate connection of the Mind and Body, we can begin to understand why we feel the way we feel and we can even learn how to transform the way we feel through the use of the mind and also the body. 

Practitioners of the ancient art of meditation, for thousands of years have claimed that learning how to subdue and control the mind has led to greater feelings of wellbeing and happiness, along with greater physical and mental health and capacity. This is what we are going to be exploring in this section of this report.

Each and every one of us possesses the capacity to think. We think all day long about the various aspects of our life that we deem it necessary to think about, but what happens when our thoughts are focused on negative and detrimental aspects of our lives? 

The answer is… we feel bad. This may seem like a very simple way of saying it but that is exactly what happens. 

If we sit and think about a loved one experiencing a terrible trauma or finding themselves in a life threatening situation we experience great anxiety as the result of that thought. At the same time if we imagine the feeling of peace that comes from floating aimlessly on the surface of a warm ocean, with the sun shining down on our skin, we experience a feeling of inner calm and serenity as the result of that thought. 

Our thoughts have the power to affect our physical bodies and the processes that occur within them. The problem comes to us when our minds have been left to fester on very negative thought patterns for a very long time. If we haven’t learned how to consciously influence ourselves then we are always at the mercy of an untrained mind and in most cases, the information that our minds dwell on is negative, and so obviously we feel the negative results of this. 

What we have to do then, is learn how to retrain our minds, how to redirect our attention and our thoughts so that we inspire ourselves, encourage ourselves and motivate ourselves with conscious intent. Regarding the specific problem of depression, this is actually a very simple process, but it is something that must be repeatedly applied in order to bring about any long-lasting change, especially if the depression is very strong or has been with us for a long time. 

So how do we do this? 

The answer, quite simply is Mental & Physical Exercise.

11 Real Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise

In terms of depression, when we consider the word ‘exercise’ we are considering both mental and physical exercise. 

The Mental Health Benefits Of Physical Exercise

Improved Self Esteem – Being physically active naturally makes us feel better about our lives and ourselves. Physical exercise promotes greater production of feel good brain chemicals called endorphins, which naturally make us feel better about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we tend to feel better about any circumstances that we may come across in our lives. 

By getting physically fit we improve our capacity for living, we begin to lose weight or tone up and so we feel better about our image, we begin to push our limits and gain new skills and strengths and so we improve upon our feelings of self-worth. Physical exercise has the ability to massively affect our levels of self-esteem in a positive way.

Reduced Stress – By performing physical exercise we encourage the release of pent up stress and emotion. By exerting ourselves actively, we physically burn energy that has been stored due to high levels of inactivity. 

At the same time, the good feelings that we get from physical exercise improves our outlook and mindset and this can have the effect of making things seem more manageable than they appeared to be before. 

When we practice physical exercise, we have to focus our minds on the physical movements of the body and doing this takes our attention away from the things that cause us mental stress.

This gives the mind a break from stressful thought patterns and allows for a moment of respite. Many people find that after a workout they can’t even remember what it was that they were stressed about before exercise.

Greater Feelings Of Contentment & Calm – When performing physical exercise, it is possible to exert yourself both physically and mentally to a high degree. This means that we are actually able to exhaust our mental concerns by completely exhausting their energetic resources. 

This sounds complex but can be understood simply as ‘being so exhausted that you don’t have the energy to be concerned’. With regards to depression, this causes the body and mind to go through a process whereby it enters into a state of exhaustion and then becomes reinvigorated with energy and motivation once it moves through and beyond that state, thereby countering the feelings of depression.

Greater Sense Of Accomplishment – Physical exercise can be grueling and challenging. It can test a person both physically and mentally and so when a person emerges from having spent time physically exercising they feel a great sense of accomplishment at having made it through. 

This has the really positive effect of making a person feel good about themselves and naturally counters the feelings associated with depression.

Greater Awareness Of Body & Mind – Mental exercise helps people to develop a deeper awareness of their physical and mental being. When people learn to witness the processes occurring within their minds they are better able to grasp the causes of any underlying issues or problems that they have been facing. 

For example, if a person regularly experiences bouts of depression they can learn to see this occurring within them through the practice of meditation. By learning to observe the movements of the mind that cause them to begin to spiral downward into a depressed state they can develop the ability to catch themselves and change any particular thoughts that might inspire depression. 

At the same time if a person meditates while they are depressed they can consciously influence their own mind in a way that inspires greater motivation and inspiration for living which will alleviate the symptoms of depression and inspires the opposite effect.

Greater Calm & Clarity – Through mental training, anyone can learn to access powerful states of inner calm and they can also learn to clearly observe destructive or intrusive thoughts to the point where they can develop greater clarity regarding them. 

Different strategies work differently for different people, but someone who experiences depression because of their inability to deal with anxiety can learn to conquer anxiety through mental training whereby they will no longer feel depressed at their inability.

In addition, someone who experiences depression because of a loss of interest in life or a loss of excitement can inspire greater motivation for something via mental exercise, thereby alleviating the source of his or her depression. 

All of this brings greater clarity regarding their own personal problems, their causes and their cures, and this leads to a greater sense of calm because they have learned that they can deal with anything that arises as long as they take the time to work through it and figure out exactly what the problem is.

Improved Concentration – Mental exercise actually improves a person’s ability to concentrate because it is required that a person learn to place their attention in a specific place and keep it there. For example, in meditation a practitioner is encouraged to observe the breath and count each breath. 

If the mind begins to race away into thoughts and the practitioner forgets to count, they are supposed to return back to the beginning and count from one again. This trains the ability to remain focused on a single task without letting the mind run away with itself. 

For people who suffer from an inability to concentrate this is an invaluable tool that can inspire greater self-confidence and greater mental acuity and ability.

Greater Acceptance and Less Frustration – Meditation, Yoga and various other types of mental exercise place a great deal of emphasis on ‘acceptance’ and reflecting upon the cause of negative emotions. By learning to reflect on the cause of anger, a person can learn how to let go of this cause, thereby experiencing greater levels of acceptance, which ultimately means less frustration. 

Many people who experience depression regularly express their growing concern at the ‘ways of the world’, ‘how other people act’ or ‘how things just seem to be going really badly for the.’ 

By learning to reflect on both the inner and outer processes that are happening to and around them, they can learn to have greater acceptance and understanding as to why these things are happening. If greater acceptance is encouraged, in this particular case, the cause or at least one of the major footholds of the depression is countered.

As we can see there are many mental health benefits of both physical and mental exercise, in fact the ones we have outlined here are only a small number of how many there really are. 

To truly uncover the real depths of this we must begin to investigate the actual practices for ourselves to see what benefits we can uncover. In order to do this we are going to take a look at a handful of some of the most effective means of physical and mental training that can be used to combat depression.

It is worth noting that the following disciplines can be used to combat a multitude of mental health concerns but in consideration of this report, we will do our best to outline the disciplines in relation to the specific concerns of depression.

Best Types Of Exercise For Depression

There are many forms of physical and mental exercise that help to alleviate the symptoms of depression. All of them can be practiced individually or as part of a balanced approach, that incorporates all or some of either the entire discipline, or its individual specific parts.

It is definitely wisest when considering which exercises to employ to work with both types of exercise. Develop a personal practice that utilizes both physical and mental exercise and you will see that while the physical exercise has a great ability to make you feel good in the short term, it is mental exercise that will have a long lasting effect on your mind. 

When combined these two will create a radical transformation in you and in the way, you think and feel about your life. 

Physical Exercise

First, let’s take a look at some physical exercises that can aid in alleviating the symptoms of depression.


Dancing has the ability to take you away from the world and into a space of pure expression of the physical form. This doesn’t have to be the traditional kind of dancing that occurs with two people, though it can be if you choose, it can also be done by yourself at home in your pajamas if this is what you prefer. 

Don’t restrict yourself too much with proper forms or rules, just let your body move however it wants and learn to remain present with it while it does.

It can be done with or without music and all that is required is that you stand up and let your body move. However, music on its own has tremendous healing powers, and should never be underestimated as to its role in helping to improve mood and instill feelings of calm and happiness.


Being outdoors in the garden is a great way to uplift your spirit. Taking your time to connect intimately to the landscape can have a powerful effect on how you feel. At the same time your physical body is being active and so is encouraging the release of chemicals that make you feel good. Immersing yourself in the sensations of the garden, the scent of flowers, the feeling of the wind and sun on your skin, will have a rejuvenating effect on both body and mind.


Any sport at all, including golf, hockey, basketball, football can be utilized here, just make sure it is something that interests you and that is not too physically demanding for you current level of fitness and physical ability. These can also be experienced alone or as part of a group and in either case you will feel the benefits of the physical exercise, however if you are doing sports with other people you may find that the social aspect helps to improve your mood because of the interaction and communication that takes place. 

Just remember not to take the sports too seriously if they are competitive, the most important thing here is that you enjoy the time spent doing the activity.


Yes, even good old housework can be used as a means of physical exercise. Obviously there is a lot of physical effort involved in doing work around the home so this will have a positive effect on your physical body, but also at the same time you will feel really good mentally about getting the work done, and the cleanliness of the space that you have developed. Housework works wonders to improve your physical and mental condition.

There is also an interesting side effect of cleaning and organizing your home as it can actually mimic organization of the mind, and allows you to feel more in control, as opposed to clutter and chaos, which has the opposite effect.


Simple jogging outdoors is a great way to encourage greater levels of fitness and physical health. Make sure you have a decent pair of running shoes and remember to take your time with this exercise. This is all about being outdoors and enjoying yourself so don’t place too many high expectations on yourself and just have fun with it.


Running is a more intense form of jogging, performed at greater speeds but following many of the same rules as jogging. A great way of improving physical fitness, stamina and endurance, this is a brilliant form of exercise that doesn’t need any costly equipment, other than perhaps a half decent pair of running shoes. Always run in a safe environment and keep an eye open for pedestrians and traffic if running in public spaces.


Swimming is an all-round exercise that works every part of your physical body.At the same time, your mind will feel refreshed from being submerged in water. Try to do this in the ocean or a natural lake or river if possible but only if it’s safe enough to swim in. This will greatly improve your physical fitness, overall health, and sense of mental wellbeing.


Walking in the great outdoors is a great way to give your mind a break and to gently encourage greater levels of physical fitness and health. Get yourself some decent shoes though, especially if you are going to walk for long distances. It is recommended to start with short distances and if you want to push yourself, slowly work up to walking further and further each day.


Consider Hiking as a more advance form of walking and take into account the same approach as above. Hiking however is done with a hill or mountain in mind. Remember that if you are going to hike for lengthy periods of time you are going to want to take a ‘day-pack’ with you that contains food, water, and safety equipment. Many places that you can hike will have no phone-reception and so always tell at least one other person where you are going and how long you intend to be hiking for.

Martial Arts

Definitely one of the most recommended means of physical exercise, Martial Arts not only has the ability to cater for all levels it also greatly impacts people mentally as well as physically. 

Choose a specific form of Martial Art that looks interesting to you and find yourself an instructor who has experience teaching beginners. 

Many Martial Artists are also experienced counsellors or are people who have personally battled with depression and can offer great insight into using Martial Arts Training to combat this.

Gym & Personal Training 

Another great means of inspiring greater levels of physical health and wellbeing is through training at a Gym with a personal trainer. This is another very highly recommended method of improving physical wellbeing because it has the ability to affect every area of the physical body. 

Personal training can be tailored to all levels of ability and can allow a person to choose which area of focus they want concentrate on such as weight loss, weight gain, muscle building, strength building etc.

This is by no-means a comprehensive list of activities that involve physical exercise but it should certainly serve as a way of opening your mind up to some of the ways in which you can encourage exploration of physical exercise. 

Mental Exercise

Now let’s take a look at some of the various forms of mental exercise that you can investigate to help you with conquering the state of depression.


Yoga is an ancient discipline that touches both physical and mental aspects of a person’s life and also has the ability to develop greater levels of spiritual awareness. The natural result of continued Yoga practice is greater physical health, strength, and endurance, along with greater mental calm, clarity, and sense of wellbeing. 

There are many different branches of Yoga from which a practitioner can choose to learn and so it is important to find the one that works best for you. It is the perfect discipline to be used as a method of overcoming the state of depression because it encourages a completely holistic approach to life, includes mindfulness, breathing, and meditation within the practice, and provides calm to the mind, and peace to the spirit.


This is another discipline that has many different forms and techniques that are used to develop greater control over the mind.

The practice of meditation has been repeatedly proven to be extremely effective at overcoming depression and encourages a person to take control of their thoughts and develop the ability to experience profound and powerful states of happiness. 

Depression medications works by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. A study conducted by the University of Montreal found that meditation offers you the opportunity to naturally boost levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine.

In 1996, a University of Washington study found that the hippocampus was incredibly underdeveloped in individuals suffering from depression and that damage was more severe in those with prolonged depression. Thankfully, this damage isn’t permanent and meditation helps revive the hippocampus to help treat and even prevent depression.

The fight or flight stress response triggers the amygdala region of the brain, causing it to become overheated and flood the body with hormones that can damage mental health. A study conducted by Harvard found that meditation not only helps you learn to control the triggering of the fight of flight stress response, but it also improves the health of the amygdala.

Most people suffer from depression because they feel incomplete, something that easily occurs when life changes in a significant way, meditation brings calm and peace, makes you feel whole again and helps you get back on your feet.

Some key types of meditation are Vipassana, Transcendental, Mindfulness, Guided, Sleep, Walking, Mantra, Metta (Loving Kindness), Qigong (Chi Gung), Chakra and Zazen. There are many other types of meditation but these ones certainly contain the power to bring about great mental transformation.

What is the best form of meditation for depression? 

A study published by psychologists from the University of Exeter showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT may actually be more effective than counseling or medication, citing that four months after MBCT, three fourths of study subjects felt well enough to stop taking antidepressants.

Mark Williams, an Oxford professor of clinical psychology and the leader of the team that developed MBCT cites that brooding is one of the key features seen in patients with depression and MBCT specifically tackles brooding to teach compassion for self and others.

Tai Chi 

One of the most powerful and profound forms of exercise that actually incorporates aspects of both physical and mental exercise is Tai Chi. This discipline has the ability to bring great calm and clarity to the practitioner and also rejuvenates the physical body. 

The practitioner learns to focus their mind on the body and the breath and this causes any fluctuations in thought or emotion to settle, allowing a moment of respite from any internal anguish or suffering. 

Many people report that even after only a single session of Tai Chi practice they feel full of energy and alive, an obviously beneficial feeling to anyone who is suffering from depression. 

Having a space in which the mind can experience great calm too has a very beneficial effect on the practitioner’s mental state.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, at this point you have a much more clear understanding of depression, how it can be recognized, how it can affect a person’s life, and most importantly how to combat it. 

Depression really is one of the most misunderstood states of mind that people experience and at the same time, it is one of the most common. 

If you are struggling with depression please do not hesitate to reach out for help, I promise you that nine out of ten people that you ask will have experienced some form of depression in their life or know someone who has, so really you are not alone. 

Use the techniques outlined in this book to encourage greater inspiration and motivation for yourself and join forces with other people to develop long-lasting and healthy relationships. 

The route of traditional medicine is open to you but as mentioned in this report, there are many complementary methods of conquering depression that can only serve to improve your wellbeing and quality of life.

We have done our best to cover the essence of some of these here and we hope that this information will serve you well. 

Good luck in reawakening your inspiration, and we hope that you find exactly what you need to bring about the changes you seek.

Stay well and take care.