Skip to content

Depression Health Center

Exercise for Depression: How It Helps

Being physically active should be part of depression treatment, experts say.
Font Size
A
A
A

Your Brain on Exercise continued...

“Not only is the [depressed] brain locked into a negative loop of self-hate,” he writes, “but it also loses the flexibility to work its way out of the hole.”

Exercise, Ratey says, counters that by boosting the production of BDNF (brain-developed neurotrophic factor), a protein that helps neurotransmitters perform their function, and which may help depressed people emerge from their rut. Ratey describes BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain."

To reduce depression, Ratey advises patients to follow general public health guidelines, which recommend at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week as well as two days of strength training each week.

However, not everyone will experience the antidepressant effects of exercise, Ratey cautions. He estimates that less than 50% will see a significant reduction in symptoms.

“That’s comparable to response rates for medications,” he says.

In Baxter’s practice, she finds that her patients respond better - they get a bigger mood boost - if they do exercises that require them to use their brain rather than let it run on auto pilot.

For example, a multistage exercise that requires you to lift a ball above your head then move into a forward lunge will get your brain working better than rote exercises like rowing or pedaling a stationary bike. 

Ratey agrees. “We know that a harder-working brain is a smarter brain -- probably a more hopeful and motivated brain, as well,” he says.

And a more hopeful and motivated brain is just what Anita needed in order for her to begin making her way out of her depression.

“I think the workout/therapy sessions helped me move through times of being stuck or anxious more quickly,” Anita says. “I took up running on my own, and I credit the gentle but consistent talk/workout sessions with helping me reach this goal of health and fitness.”

1 | 2 | 3
Reviewed on February 16, 2012

Today on WebMD

contemplation
Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
light therapy
What are the symptoms?
 
depressed man sitting on hallway floor
Learn the truth about this serious illness.
Sad woman looking out of the window
Tips to stay the treatment course.
 
unhappy teen boy
Health Check
woman relaxing with exercise ball
Article
 
Pills with smiley faces
Article
Teen girl huddled outside house
Article
 
Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
Article
antidepressants slideshow
Article
 
pill bottle
Article
Winding path
Article