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Your Guide to Depression Treatment

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The Importance of Physical Activity When You Have Depression

Medically Reviewed By Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

Exercise can be a key part of a successful strategy for reducing symptoms of depression. You can choose the type of activity that works best for you.


A common first-line treatment for depression is talk therapy, or psychotherapy, and the most commonly used type of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Many people also take antidepressants to help reduce symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Physical activity can be another way to help boost your mood and help you feel better. Exercise reduces inflammation and makes you more resilient to stress. Physical activity also causes changes in your brain that can help reduce feelings of hopelessness, despair, emptiness, irritability, and other symptoms of depression. 

Small amounts of exercise can make a difference

According to research, exercise reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s so effective that exercise is often recommended as an adjunct treatment, or a remedy added to the primary treatment for depression. 

As a result, you might find relief in a combination of treatments, and physical activity might just be one of them.  Plus, getting regular exercise can reduce your risk for other serious illnesses, like heart disease, for which depression rates tend to be higher.  

Ideally, you’ll want to aim for 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per week. A 2023 study suggests that high intensity activity seemed effective at reducing depression symptoms. 

Not only does exercise help, but just being more physically active can make a positive difference. A 2023 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that small amounts of physical activity can lower the risk of depression. You don’t have to train for a marathon or dedicate hours each day to exercise to experience the benefits of different kinds of physical activity, such as walking and yoga.

You can also swim, run, cycle, lift weights, or engage in other kinds of exercise that you enjoy and can work into your schedule. 

Some other ways Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source to incorporate movement into your daily life can include:

  • taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • parking farther away from your destination so you can walk more
  • pacing around the room while you’re on the phone
  • walking and talking with a colleague for a meeting
  • walking your dog
  • raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or weeding your garden
  • dancing to a few of your favorite tunes
  • taking the long route whenever you’re walking

Consider group exercise

Depression can feel isolating. A group exercise class is one way to overcome that barrier and improve your mental health with movement. Some experts suggest that people with mild to moderate depression may benefit from participating in weekly exercise sessions with other people. 

The type of class or activity with a group is up to you. Let your interests lead the way. Community centers, fitness studios, gyms, and colleges often have a roster of group exercise opportunities, and you can look for one that fits your schedule.

If you like to dance, a cardio or ballroom dance class might be a good option. If you’re a jogger, consider joining a group that meets regularly to run on a nearby path or greenway. You may find that you’re less likely to skip a session when you have a group of other people who can hold you accountable. 

However, if you can’t imagine yourself exercising in a group, you could seek out a friend to be your walking or biking buddy. You’ll still get the benefits of being social and active and the accountability factor.  


Managing depression is a step-by-step process, and your doctor can help you find the appropriate treatment. If you are considering a new type of physical activity, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before starting. In the meantime, you could start small and work on boosting your physical activity in your daily life.

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Medical Reviewer: Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
Last Review Date: 2024 Feb 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.