5 exercises proven to combat depression better than medication

Depression, a prevalent mental health condition, affects millions worldwide [1].

While medication is commonly prescribed, emerging research suggests that specific exercises may offer profound benefits in alleviating depression symptoms. Here are five exercises that have demonstrated efficacy in combating depression [2]:

Aerobic exercise

Engaging in aerobic activities like jogging, swimming or cycling can significantly improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. Aerobic exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters known to enhance mood.

Additionally, it promotes the growth of new brain cells in areas associated with depression regulation, fostering resilience against depressive episodes.

Resistance training

Incorporating resistance training, like weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, into your routine can also be beneficial for depression management.

Studies have shown that resistance training enhances physical strength and boosts mental wellbeing by increasing self-esteem and promoting a sense of accomplishment [3].

Furthermore, it can improve sleep quality, a crucial factor in managing depression.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese martial art characterized by slow, flowing movements, has gained recognition for its therapeutic effects on mental health.

Research indicates that practicing Tai Chi can alleviate symptoms of depression by promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety and enhancing overall psychological wellbeing [4]. Its gentle, low-impact nature suits individuals of all fitness levels.

Yoga

With its focus on breath control, meditation and physical postures, yoga offers a holistic approach to combating depression. Regular yoga practice has been linked to reduced levels of stress hormones and increased activity in brain regions associated with emotional regulation. 

Moreover, the mindfulness aspect of yoga cultivates self-awareness and acceptance, empowering individuals to navigate negative emotions more effectively.

Walking

Walking is a remarkably accessible exercise with profound benefits for mental health, particularly in combating depression. This simple activity triggers the release of endorphins, elevating mood and breaking the cycle of negative thoughts [5].

It also supports cognitive function and mood regulation by enhancing brain activity. Easily integrated into daily routines, walking is a natural and effective way to boost mental wellness and resilience, making it a vital tool in overcoming depression.

Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can offer substantial benefits for depression management. However, it’s essential to approach exercise as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, other treatment modalities.

Consulting with a healthcare professional is advisable to develop a personalized treatment plan that integrates exercise alongside medication, therapy and other interventions as needed.

Ultimately, by embracing regular physical activity, individuals struggling with depression can harness the healing power of exercise to cultivate a greater sense of wellbeing and resilience in their journey toward mental health recovery.

Learn more about this study from the British Medical Association.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
[2] https://www.bmj.com/content/384/bmj-2023-075847
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8602192/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9957102/
[5] https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/mental-benefits-of-walking

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