Exercise and Depression

Can exercising really help those who are feeling depressed? This question is something I have taken personal interest in. My friend was feeling depressed, and he asked me what he could do to try to be happier. We agreed that starting to exercise could take his mind off of his problems for a while. So he tried it. He started exercising daily, and it actually helped him through his depression. This made me wonder if the exercise was the factor that got him through his tough time, or if it was just a case of correlation not equaling causation.

There were multiple studies done on this subject. One study done in 1999 showed the effects that exercise can have on depression. This experiment took 156 men and women, separated them into three groups, and gave one group antidepressants. They made another group exercise daily, and they gave the last group antidepressants and made them exercise. The results showed that exercise did help the patients reduce depression levels. The antidepressants worked faster and very slightly more, but the exercise-only group showed significant benefits as well. Months after the experiment, the patients who continued to exercise had a lower relapse rate than those who did not exercise.

There are some theories that go along with these results. Some scientists believe exercise helps with depression because exercising makes you release endorphins which coincide with a positive mood. Some people believe it is because exercising causes your body to heat up and increased temperatures in certain parts of the brain cause you to relax. Another theory is that exercising distracts you from the cause of your depression. This is the thought process my friend and I had when we decided he should work out. Lastly, one theory is that exercising makes you more fit, which can cause you to be happier with your body, making you a happier person. Any of these theories could be true. Much of the brain and how it works is undiscovered. This is why it is hard to just cure something like depression.

As of right now, we do not know exactly why exercise helps with depression. We don’t know if exercise directly causes lower depression levels. It could be that a third variable is causing lower depression levels, but we think it is exercise due to the strong correlation. It could also be the classic case of chance causing the lower depression levels. We can, however, rule out reverse causation. We know that lower depression levels in the future could not cause the person to go back in the past and work out.

We know that exercising is strongly correlated with lower depression levels, whether it equals causation or not. In my opinion, if you’re ever feeling depressed, try exercising pretty often for a while. The data shows that its worth a shot if you are a rational person.

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Sources: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-and-depression-report-excerpt



10 thoughts on “Exercise and Depression

  1. Chelsea Greenberg

    I appreciate the science aspect of you post, but as someone who has personal experience depression I don’t quite agree. You mentioned how exercising can distract someone from the “cause” of there depression, but sometimes there is no cause; generally depressed people have a chemical imbalance in their brain that causes them to be depressed. I also think the study you referenced may be outdated, seeing as there has been much progress in learning about mental illness and its causes. I think your assertion that exercise helps depression does not apply to all depressed people, seeing as there are a lot of different kinds of depression and everyone handles it differently. Sometimes people with depression can’t even bring themselves to get out of bed because of their depression, so I think by saying that they could solve their problems by getting up and exercising is a very neurotypical way of thought. I also think your assertion that any “rational” person experiencing depression should just get up and exercise is inconsiderate of what mentally ill people go through. Again, I’m biased because I have depression, but I think you’ve overlooked the complexity of depression and the various ways to cope with it.

  2. dms6679

    I really liked this post because I avidly workout! I do feel as though exercise keeps me less stressed, and motivates me in other aspects of my life. I agree with you in believing that exercise lowers depression levels. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, and down on my self I noted that exercise has boosted my mood. I do wonder if this is simply just a placebo effect. This article goes into the matter in a little more detail http://www.marksdailyapple.com/does-the-placebo-effect-apply-to-exercise/.

  3. Griffin Lambert Brooks

    Great post! I actually from personal experience can say exercising and working out makes you feel better mentally and physically. After I work out or do an extreme exercise that would make me sweat, yeah sure ill feel exhausted and in desperate need of water, but after I shower and clean up and recuperate I feel like superman. My body feels strong and I feel very healthy. When I do not exercise or workout I feel unhealthy and start to eat bad food that is not good for me. Exercising makes you feel rejuvenated and also a sense of accomplishment. I feel as though people who are in college need to read this post because sometimes you get brought down with a lot of work and its a spiraling effect of bad grades and depression. Take 30 minutes of your day and workout. You’ll feel better mentally and physically.

  4. Maura Katherine Maguire

    Brett, really interesting post! I feel this is can relate to so many people. Throughout high school I always played a sport every season and I felt the constant exercise is what kept me happy and sane during crazy times. In the beginning of the semester I was not used to not playing a sport and began to feel unhappy. I soon started to go to the gym with friends and the new found exercise sparked my confidence and left me feeling more happy and healthy. I think this post could be beneficial to so many people at this school.

  5. Grace Ellen Leibow

    Brett, your post definitely caught my eye as I personally have been attempting to work exercise into my daily routine. I have found that the days when I exercise, I feel much more relaxed, focused, and my endorphins seem to be on a high following the workout. Here http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495 is an article that specifically outlines exactly what effects exercise has on the body to help the anxious or depressed, as well as other additional benefits of exercise. Further, as I continued my research, I came across a comprehensive Harvard health study that found that, specifically, yoga is an excellent stress-reliever, and a great help for the depressed. You can check it out here: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

  6. Alexis Herrington

    Very interesting study comparing a natural method and prescribed medical method to reduce depression, some people don’t believe in any other remedy than medicine and this is just one study that proves otherwise! I think you did a good job with this post, however, I would suggest doing more research on studies than just the one you found. This way you have more than one study to compare the results with so you can have more confidence that the study you found wasn’t a fluke from chance. Here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744388109000048 is a link to a study that examines how yoga not only decreases depression, but anxiety as well. Or, here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379704002417 is a randomized placebo study where different levels of aerobic exercises are examined to see their effect on depression.

  7. tmv5147

    I also agree with your post, even though your post didn’t say “the reason exercise lowers stress levels from a scientific perspective is because….” it’s been a known fact for generations that for some reason exercising relieves you from a stressful state of mind. You did a great job referring your post back to what we talked about in class to tie everything together. I also think it’s awesome that you wrote about something you had a personal, hands-on experience with.

  8. Mackenzie French

    I strongly believe that exercise helps with not only depression but other emotions as well. I think it’s essential for college students to at least get 15 minutes of exercise a day. With the amount of stress put on us from academics, social life and simply every day life, it’s important we let our emotions out. Exercising is a great way to let out emotions and relieve stress. Although it can be hard to find time to go to the gym, I highly recommend it to students! I enjoyed reading your blog post because I would like to know if exercising actually helps with depression or if it is like a placebo effect, having my mind telling me that I am feeling better. Here is an article I found interesting relating to your blog post! http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

  9. Margaret Marchok

    Brett- I really enjoyed reading your post. I can relate to this in many ways. Last year was my freshman year and I dealt with a lot of different emotions. I was sad, scared, and I missed home a lot. Second semester I decided to start going to the gym every day to exercise and take my mind off things, which worked wonders for me. For starters, I began to lose weight and become much healthier, which gave me such a confidence boost and made me very happy. Also, working out provided an escape from the stress of school work and helped me run out any anger or anxiety I had. Lastly, my grades actually improved because I was able to focus more after my work-out. So, I totally agree that exercise can work wonders for people with depression and also has some additional benefits. This is a great article about why exercising has the effect on stress that it does- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495. Enjoy!

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