What Are the Benefits of Physical Activity When it Comes to Depression?

There are so many benefits of physical activity. It can improve your heart health, build muscle, and increase flexibility. But did you know that the same can help you deal with anxiety, stress, and depression? One of the signs of depression is a reduction in physical activity. When you feel depressed, sometimes the last thing you want to do is exercise. However, finding the right motivation can make all the difference.

The Effects of Exercise on Depression – CNN

Understanding Depression

Approximately nine and a half percent of adults in the US are affected by depression every year. Seventeen percent of the adult population in the US will suffer from a major depressive episode at some point in their lives. As a result, depression is the leading cause of disability. Every year, depression costs over forty billion dollars in lost productivity and medical expenses.

Sad unhappy handsome man sitting on the sofa and holding his forehead.
Depression is a Serious Mental Health Disorder (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Depression is a serious mental health disorder. It negatively affects how you think, feel, and act. With the correct diagnosis, depression is treatable. Depression leads to feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It’s normal to feel sad, moody, and down from time to time. But some people experience these emotions more intensely and for longer periods.

Depression goes beyond low mood; it’s a severe condition that leads to emotional and physical problems. There is no single cause of depression. Instead, it culminates from a combination of factors. 

These may include family history, a medical illness, alcohol, or drug abuse. Early childhood experiences, recent stressful events, and personality factors can also play a role in depression.

What Are the Signs of Depression?

In 2016, suicide was ranked as the tenth leading cause of death among US citizens. It is also the second leading cause of death for people under thirty-five. The annual suicide rate in the US is fourteen deaths per one hundred thousand people. Why are these statistics important? Because depression carries with it a high risk of suicide. 
Most people don’t see it coming. Knowing the symptoms of depression can enable you to get help for you or a loved one before it’s too late.

Feelings of Hopelessness

Depression often affects how you feel about your life. Having a hopeless outlook on life is one of the most common signs of depression. Feelings of self-hate, worthlessness, and guilt are also common.

Loss of Interest

Depression causes a loss of interest in things that you once loved. A loss of interest or withdrawal from sports, hobbies, and even friends may point to a major depressive episode. Some people may also lose interest in sex.

Sleep Problems and Tiredness

A depressed person loses interest in certain activities because they feel tired. It can also lead to a lack of energy and a feeling of fatigue. This may result in oversleeping, but depression can also lead to the opposite—insomnia.

Woman lying in bed having problem sleeping, suffering from insomnia.
Depression Can Also Lead to Insomnia (Image Source: Shutterstock)


Depression doesn’t necessarily cause anxiety. The two conditions, however, can occur at the same time. Some of the signs of anxiety include restlessness and an intense feeling of doom. Others have feelings of panic or danger, which can increase your blood pressure and heart rate. Heavy sweating, trembling, and trouble focusing are also signs of anxiety.


Depression affects people differently. Men, for instance, are more likely to be irritable when depressed. They tend to display risky or escapist behavior. Sometimes, they will have misplaced anger and may get into substance abuse.

Uncontrollable Emotions

One minute you are feeling angry, the next, you are crying uncontrollably. Depression wreaks havoc on your emotions, which leads to mood swings.

African American hugging herself while crying at the sofa.
Depression Wreaks Havoc on Your Emotions, Which Leads to Mood Swings (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Unintentional Changes in Appetite and Weight

Appetite and weight often fluctuate when a person is depressed. Some people will have a bigger appetite, leading to overeating and eventual weight gain. Others lose interest in food altogether, which may result in considerable weight loss. Dietary changes are common. If they are not intentional, it could be a sign of depression.

Benefits of Physical Activity for Mental Health

There are so many bodily benefits of physical activity. Exercise helps control weight, lowers blood pressure, and may even prevent cancer. But moving your body has a lot of benefits to your mental health as well. It can help relieve the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Here are ways physical activity can impact your mental health.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Does exercise reduce anxiety? We all go through stressful situations in our lives. Physical activity is a healthy way of managing stress and anxiety. It’s worth noting that exercising doesn’t make your stress go away. It provides an opportunity to step away from a cycle of negative emotions and thoughts. 

African American man jogging.
Physical Activity is a Healthy Way of Managing Stress and Anxiety. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

These negative thoughts are the ones that could lead to depression. An increase in physical activity causes a decrease in stress hormones. Your body then releases endorphins to boost your mood and increase your energy. By the time your workout is complete, you will have fewer stress hormones. This can positively change your perspective on a stressful situation.

Boost Confidence and Self-Worth

Depression can create feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. When you exercise, it leaves you feeling better, not only about yourself, but your body. Physical activity also improves your self-confidence. Positive feelings of self-worth reduce the risk of negative thoughts.

On top of that, exercising increases the neural connections in your hippocampus. The hippocampus is part of the brain responsible for emotional responses and long-term memory. When you are working out, your brain memorizes your emotional reactions. Over time, it rewires itself to associate these emotions with your body movements.

Deal with Difficult Emotions

Physical activity helps build flexibility and resilience. One of the benefits of yoga, for instance, is helping manage anxiety and depression. When you have an exercise regimen like yoga, you move and stretch your body beyond your comfort zone. This creates resilience and flexibility that is vital in fighting depression. The brain will change the way it operates as you introduce new patterns into your life.

Woman doing yoga.
Physical Activity Helps Build Flexibility and Resilience. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

When you work out, your hippocampus memorizes these new patterns. Your body also learns that resilience leads to rewards like endorphins. Next, when you’re up against an obstacle, your brain remembers these patterns. It then releases neurotransmitters like dopamine that increase your motivation and drive.

Reaping the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Exercise helps prevent many physical health problems. Research shows that regular movement and exercise can improve your mood drastically, benefiting symptoms of depression and anxiety. By integrating exercise into your routine—even a simple workout at home—you can reap the benefits of physical activity when it comes to depression and mental health.