How Exercise Helps You Beat Depression

Mental health professionals have long advocated exercise as an effective method to battling depressive moods. A recent study published in the Lancet Psychiatry confirms that exercise does indeed elevate one’s mood, especially amongst those who have been diagnosed with depression. In the largest study of its kind, 1.2 million people partook in large telephone surveys conducted in 2011, 2013, and 2015. The participants each reported they experienced 3.5 days of poor mental health in any given month. Just about any form of exercise was confirmed to help reduce that number by an average of 1.5 days a month, or by 43%. Team sports, aerobic and gym exercises had the largest effect on the study group, reducing poor mental health days by almost 20%. Walking was linked to a 10% reduction.

“It’s not like everyone has to go and run a marathon, and actually running wasn’t even the most effective,” the study’s senior investigator, Adam Chekroud, told news outlets. “Things like yoga, things like walking, even household chores, seemed to have some benefit over doing nothing at all.” Unsurprisingly, the study found that team sports were the best for mood elevation. It has been suggested that the exercise itself is not the root of its benefits, but rather the feelings of team camaraderie and companionship.

There are multiple reasons for exercise’s many mental health benefits. One is neurobiological. Research has suggested that exercise can boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) — a nerve growth factor that is believed to play a role in maintaining an elevated mood. The social element of group exercises are also a notable factor. Chekroud credited frequent exercise with “putting structure into your life — it’s probably making you tired, it’s probably making you sleep better, and so it’s a pretty holistic approach for tackling a number of different things,” he said.

People who worked out for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, for three to five days a week, seemed to reap the most rewards of the physical practise. Mental health is complicated, our brain’s production of mood-elevating chemicals is largely dependent on various and inconsistent factors. Despite the complexity behind our changing moods, this small life change is now proven to have a boosting effect on your mental wellbeing.