Why Does Exercise Reduce Depression?

Exercises can help with depression because hormones are released when you exercise. Endorphins are special hormones secreted in your brain and they have an effect on your moods.

Exercise To Reduce Depression

These endorphins actually activate the same receptors that many drugs (legal and illegal) activate, but without the dangerous and negative side effects. So exercising can boost your moods and therefore reduce your depression.

How Endorphins Improve Moods With Exercise

Let’s go back to the 1970’s when when scientists began to study how the human brain interacts with opiates. Drugs like morphine and heroin cause a very pleasurable experience (we are told), but have obvious downsides. Researchers wanted to know how to duplicate the euphoric feelings which opiates deliver, without the accompanying damage and danger.

They found that specialized receptors in your cells, located primarily in your spinal cord and brain, block pain signals when endorphins are released.

Endorphins are delivered when you exercise, workout, have sex…and yes, eat chocolate! You could say that your endorphins are your own private natural narcotic.

Even though we have this natural depression defense system, the last thing on our mind is to go and exercise. We usually want to crawl into bed and hide, not get out and pound the pavement! Therefore, it is important to always remember that exercise can improve your mood, make you feel happy and fulfilled and get you out of the blues.

Why Does Exercise Help?

Those “feel good” brain chemicals which are released, your endorphins, ease depression and actually reduce the bad immune system chemicals in your body, which can make your depression worse. As you exercise your body temperature rises, which produces a calming effect.

Emotionally, you gain confidence as you feel better and another bonus is you can set exercise goals and set about achieving them and making new ones.

By exercising, our endorphins are naturally released because of our inherent fight or flight response. We were designed for self preservation and our brain thinks that our intense physical state means we have to defend ourself. When this happen our pain receptors are blocked and our mood is enhanced.

All we have to do to get these powerful, positive mood boosters working, is to do a little exercise and get them started. So if you are feeling down, rather than crawl into bed, go for a walk, do some form of exercise or just turn on some of your favorite music and dance!

The endorphins released by your physical exertion and exercise will have you feeling happy and positive in no time. Can I hear you laughing about dancing all on your own? If so, I have improved your mood already. 🙂

How Long Do You Have To Exercise?

How often do you need to exercise and how long do you have to exercise for, before the endorphins are released and you see your depression symptoms fade and experience a boost in your moods?

  • Should you be exercising once a month, do you have to exercise once a week, or should you be working out every day?
  • What type of schedule do you need to develop for exercise to help boost your mood and fight depression?
  • The answer is…not as long or as frequently as you may think.

Whenever your body experiences physical stress or you intensely exert yourself, endorphins are released. As stated earlier, these endorphins impair your pain receptors, and boost your feelings of strength, happiness and well-being.

We can “de-stress” our minds by “stressing” our bodies in just 20 minutes through exercise or physical exertion. Your ability to focus is boosted, depression is overcome and these positive mood-enhancing effects can last for up to 12 hours. This is the belief of John Ratey, M.D., and other important physical fitness experts and researchers.

The “happiness effect” that physical exertion has on your brain has been proven by research which links higher than average levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and endorphins with exercise. Doctor Ratey says that BDNF helps promote neural growth and actually repairs damage caused by stress and depression.

These incredible, natural mood boosters join endorphins to deliver a positive attitude and good mood almost immediately.

Just 20 minutes of exercise on average has been shown to deliver as many as 12 hours of depression-destroying positivity.

Exercise in this case does not necessarily mean lifting a ton of weights or running as fast as you can. Simply jogging, enjoying a session of Pilates or yoga, climbing stairs or going for a brisk walk can trigger a positive mood that can last for hours.

How Often Should You Exercise?

Since 20 minutes of physically stressing and pushing your body can deliver up to 12 hours of a positive mood boost, why not practice this simple health and mind enhancer twice a day?

Exercising for 20 or 30 minutes to start your day will have you tackling the world with a positive “I can do anything” mindset and at the end of a long work day, another exercise session will keep depression at bay until you rise the next morning.

Setting healthy depression breaking habits with exercise, is a sure way to boost your moods, so kick those endorphins into gear and start smiling again! 😀

Benefits of Exercise For Reducing Depression

Working out regularly has many benefits in helping to reduce depression.

  • Confidence booster – Meeting exercise challenges and goals, regardless of how big or small they are, can improve your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also improve your physical appearance while leaving you feeling good.
  • Form of Distraction – Physical activity and exercise, is a positive form of distraction. It can keep away the cycle of negative thoughts, which feed depression and anxiety. In addition to that, every time you feel low, just hit the gym and you will feel reinvigorated.
  • It provides a platform for social interaction – Exercising may give you an opportunity to meet and socialize with others. As you do your morning jog or head to the gym, chances are very high that others will join you. Exchanging a simple greeting or even a smile can lift your spirits.
  • Healthy way of coping – People cope with depression in different ways. Some will abuse drugs and drown their sorrows in alcohol. This just worsens the problem. Alcohol is not a long-term solution to anything. The depression will be back as soon as you are sober. On the other hand, physical activity and exercise will help you to cope with the depression in a healthy way.

Which Exercises Are Recommended?

Most people believe that structured exercises are the only option. However, any form of physical activity, including light walking can boost your mood. Exercise and physical activity are different but they both have long-lasting health benefits.

Exercising does not mean running laps round the gym. There is a wide range of exercises that can improve your mood, without stretching yourself too much. Although lifting weights, running and playing basketball can get your heart pumping and ease your depression, simple activities like gardening, washing your car and walking around your home can also help.

Any physical activity that gets you out of the house can help to improve your mood.

  • Remember that you don’t have to do all the exercises in a single day.
  • Just spread them out throughout the week.
  • Incorporate smaller activities into your daily schedule.
  • For example, instead of using the elevator, take the stairs.
  • Park further from your workplace so that you can walk a longer distance.
  • If you live close to your workplace, just walk.

In Conclusion

Doing some exercise can improve your mood and significantly reduce your depression symptoms. The health benefits of physical activity and exercise will only last if you stick to a regular schedule. Once you choose an exercise you love, you will never feel pushed to exercise.

At the end of the day, if exercise reduces your depression and anxiety symptoms…isn’t it worth it!?

Affiliate Disclosure

My website contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase any products mentioned in my articles, I may receive a commission. If you do, thank you!

About Jennifer Johnson

I suffered with social anxiety and stress for years. I discovered what my triggers were and learned to control them. Hopefully some of the natural anxiety relief techniques I have tried, will also be your solution.


  1. Khalid Awan says

    hello. how are you doing ? may be as you know i am suffering with Anxiety and depression , ok i understand exercise is much better then drugs , The question is how i can do exercise with very bad mood and very tired body i try many times but due to bad can not continue , now please teach me as a beginner
    at this stage i am so tired i am fighting with myself since long time may be after God you can help me and you can understand my situation . Thanks

    • Jennifer Johnson says

      Hi Khalid,

      Firstly, I do understand your situation, and just last month a very close friend of mine couldn’t get out of bed for a few weeks due to her chronic depression…so feeling bad and tired certainly doesn’t make you feel like exercising.

      However, if you truly want to begin, don’t punish yourself by trying to take on a rigorous exercise regime, instead start very, very small.

      By starting small you develop good habits. So for example, if you make a tiny commitment to go for a 5 minute walk every day. If possible, make it the same time everyday. very soon, you will look forward to that 5 minute walk.

      After a while as you begin to feel more energetic, perhaps enjoy the sun on your face, you will look forward to your walk and want to make it a few minutes longer.

      Start small Khalid, don’t try to win any races when you begin. Take each day as it comes and congratulate yourself if you went for your walk. If you didn’t for some reason, don’t be negative towards yourself…just say to yourself, tomorrow is another day.

      I would love you to visit me here again and let me know your progress. Let me know if you go for a little walk tomorrow. I’ll always listen Khalid.

  2. Khalid Awan says

    Hello Mam, how are you doing, Thank you so much for your guidance, i read your comments which are very informative and beneficial to me, now one very common problem which throw back to me at – 1 position , Worries, yes how i can remove worries from my mind, even this morning i was feeling good but suddenly i thought about one problem which effect negatively to my mood and my body, and until now i am feeling very bad.

    • Jennifer Johnson says

      Hi Khalid, I do lots of things to try and get when my mind to stop worrying. One is I listen to music and sing! I can’t think about bad things when I am singing happy songs. I make sure I play happy songs, not sad ones. I actually have a playlist ready. 🙂

      Here’s another article you might like to read and talk to me on:

  3. Khalid Awan says

    Hello Mam, as per your instruction i already start walking since yesterday, is there any specific time to walk or i can walk anytime. Thanks for help God bless you always.

    • Jennifer Johnson says

      Hi Khalid, you can walk as much as you like and at anytime of the day! Did you feel better after you did? I’m so glad you got up and took action!

  4. Anita Prasad says

    Hi Jennifer , thanks for your inputs . My problem seems to be an overactive brain . I am absolutely fine when at work or on working days when I have deadlines. But when I am free as in my summer vacation ( I am a teacher) my brains overworks resulting in anxiety , leading to diarrhoea and subsequent weight loss and weakness. I walk regularly but that only leads to furthur weight loss. Am trying hard to find a solution .

    • Jennifer Johnson says

      Hi Anita,

      Have you tried keeping your brain active during your vacation, by reading ‘happy’ books? Obviously your mind needs to be active, as it’s ok when you are deep in work. Or even write one of your own! Keep it uplifting and positive.

      You will still benefit from exercising, so I wouldn’t stop that (I am thin too…and can lose weight easily, but I still exercise).

      You will find a solution…I can hear the determination! 🙂

  5. Thanks so much. I will start to do exercise.

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