A Workout A Day Keeps Depression At Bay?

Everyone knows that they need to exercise to be healthy. But what you may not realize is that those health effects extend to your brain. A number of studies have shown that exercise can not only treat depression, but perhaps stop it from happening at all.

Why It Matters

People are taking more antidepressants than ever before. Between the early '90s and the mid 2000s, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States nearly quadrupled. Experts are divided on whether this is a good thing (depression has always been around, but it's finally being diagnosed and treated) or a bad thing (people are being overprescribed medication for a condition that can be remedied in other ways). Either way, antidepressants come with plenty of expense and side effects. Whether it's an alternative solution or a complementary treatment, exercise could be a relatively cheap, easy, and side-effect-free way to keep the blues away.

Smart Graphic

Why People Are Talking About It

As far back as 1981, researchers were publishing data on the effects of exercise on depression. A 1999 study showed no difference between people who took Zoloft and those who took part in an aerobic exercise program: around 60–70% of participants were no longer classified as clinically depressed after the four-month study period, regardless of which treatment they used. (It should be noted that the antidepressant group felt the effects more quickly, though a follow-up showed that the effects of exercise lasted longer).

This result holds up, according to more recent research. A 2016 meta-analysis—that is, a study that uses data from a large number of other studies to make one big conclusion—in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that exercise has "a large and significant effect on people with depression." A meta-analysis published in Preventive Medicine the same year went one step further: it found that people with lower fitness levels are more likely to develop depression, showing that an exercise program could potentially stop you from ever getting depression in the first place. The science is clear: exercise is just as important for your mental health as it is for your physical health.

Editors' Picks: Videos About Your Brain On Exercise

The Effects Of Exercise On Depression

How Exercise Rewires Your Brain

Key Facts In This Video

  1. When you exercise, your brain reorganizes itself to handle stress better. 00:15

  2. Younger neurons are usually more easily excitable than older ones. 00:45

  3. Working out affects your fight-or-flight reflex. 01:30

The Science of Depression

Written by Ashley Hamer December 9, 2016

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.