Sweat It Out: Exercise Is Proven To Outshine Anti-depressants

Written by GHBY Team on Mon, 01 April 2024

Key Highlights

  • Depression is a widespread mental health issue.
  • Anti-depressants are commonly prescribed but come with side effects.
  • New research suggests exercise may be twice as effective as medication.
  • Regular physical activity can enhance mental well-being and mood.
  • Incorporating daily exercise can offer numerous health benefits. 

Are you familiar with those days when it seems like your own body is working against you? A case of the blues, a wave of melancholy, or a persistent cloud of depression, call it what you will. We all have those days when life loses its color, and everything feels grey.

It’s quite surprising, but did you know that about 16.1 million American adults experience a major depressive episode each year? That’s almost 7% of the total U.S. population! Despite these large numbers, many are wary of conventional treatments for various reasons - side effects, stigma, or even accessibility.

But what if we told you there’s a simple, all-natural solution to keep these gloomy days at bay? A solution that is as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body - Exercise!

Yes, you heard it right!

A recent study by the British Medical Journal suggests that exercise could be twice as effective as anti-depressants. Intrigued? Let’s take a closer look at this promising new finding and see how we can incorporate it into our lives to boost our mood and overall well-being naturally.

Understanding depression

Understanding depression

Depression isn’t just about feeling blue; it’s a complex mental health issue that affects millions worldwide. It touches every part of life, from mood to behavior and even physical health. While we don’t have all the answers about what causes depression, factors like genetics, brain chemistry, and life events all play a role.

Depression isn’t just one thing; it’s a mix of many factors. Sometimes, it’s in your genes. Other times, it’s triggered by something happening in your life or a change in your brain chemistry. Understanding depression is similar to solving a puzzle, but realizing it’s more than just feeling sad can help us find ways to deal with it.

Traditional treatment methods

Traditional treatment methods for depression typically involve a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Here’s a breakdown of these methods:

Psychotherapy (Talk therapy)

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and behaviors and replacing them with healthier ones.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): Concentrates on improving communication and relationship skills to address interpersonal issues contributing to depression.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): Integrates mindfulness practices with CBT techniques to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without judgment.


  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Commonly prescribed anti-depressants that increase serotonin levels in the brain, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft).
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Medications like venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta) increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine.
  • Tricyclic anti-depressants (TCAs): Older anti-depressants, like amitriptyline and nortriptyline, are effective but may have more side effects than SSRIs and SNRIs.

Lifestyle changes

  • Regular Exercise: Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins, improves mood, and reduces symptoms of depression.
  • Healthy Diet: Consuming nutritious foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids can positively impact mood and overall well-being.
  • Adequate Sleep: Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene are essential for managing depression.
  • Social Support: Maintaining connections with friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.

Professional support

  • Regular monitoring and follow-up: Periodic check-ins with a healthcare provider or therapist ensure treatment effectiveness and adjustment if necessary.
  • Collaborative care: Involves a team-based approach where healthcare providers, therapists, and possibly other specialists work together to develop and implement a comprehensive treatment plan.
  • Education and empowerment: Providing information about depression, its symptoms, and treatment options empowers individuals to participate in their recovery journey actively.

New findings: Exercise vs. anti-depressants

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal has shed light on the potential benefits of exercise in treating depression.

  • The study found that engaging in physical activity, particularly activities like walking or jogging at least two or three times a week can significantly improve symptoms of depression.
  • In fact, participants who exercised experienced a 63% improvement in their symptoms, compared to a 26% increase seen in those taking anti-depressant medication.
  • Research suggests that exercise should be considered as a core treatment for depression, alongside psychotherapy and medication.
  • It highlights how exercise can help break up racing thoughts often associated with depression, leaving individuals feeling calmer and more clear-headed.

Benefits of exercise on mental health

Exercise offers a myriad of benefits for mental health beyond just treating depression. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress and even improve sleep quality.

It helps release endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural mood lifters, promoting feelings of happiness and well-being.

Incorporating exercise into your routine

Incorporating exercise into your routine

Incorporating exercise into your daily routine doesn’t have to be daunting. The key is to find activities that you enjoy, and that fit your lifestyle.

  • Whether it’s going for a brisk walk in the park, hitting the gym for a workout, or taking a dance class, the options are endless.
  • The NHS recommends adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. This can include activities like brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or even gardening.
  • If you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and gradually increase your activity level as you build up your stamina and confidence.
  • It’s also important to listen to your body and take breaks when needed. Remember that any amount of physical activity is beneficial, so don’t feel discouraged if you can’t meet the recommended guidelines right away.
  • The goal is to find what works for you and to make exercise a regular part of your routine.
  • In addition to exercise, it’s essential to practice self-care and coping strategies to manage depression effectively. This may include seeking support from friends and family, engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy, and prioritizing relaxation and stress reduction techniques.


By incorporating exercise into your routine and taking steps to care for your mental health, you can improve symptoms of depression and enhance your overall well-being.

So, lace up those sneakers, hit the pavement, and let exercise be your tool for a happier, healthier life.

Frequently Asked Questions

While any physical activity is beneficial, aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, or walking, can be especially effective as they increase heart rate and endorphin production. Yoga has also shown promise due to its focus on mindfulness and stress reduction.

It’s crucial never to stop taking prescribed medication without first consulting your healthcare provider. While exercise can certainly be a powerful tool in your mental health toolkit, it may not replace the need for medication entirely. 

That's okay! It's never too late to start. Begin with small steps like taking a short walk around the block or doing some light stretching at home. Gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness level improves. Remember, it's important to enjoy the exercise you're doing.

For those unable to partake in physical exercise, there are other alternatives like physiotherapy, guided movements and breathing exercises that could help. However, it's essential they discuss these alternatives with their healthcare provider first. 

Yes, professional help is crucial if you're dealing with depression. A mental health professional can provide a proper diagnosis, guide you toward the most effective treatment plan, and offer support throughout your journey. Remember, while exercise and other lifestyle adjustments can help manage the symptoms, they are not a substitute for professional medical care.

Vigorous exercise is generally safe for most people, including those with depression or anxiety. However, it's crucial to listen to your body and not push beyond your limits. If you feel uncomfortable or unwell during a vigorous workout, it's okay to slow down or stop. Remember, the goal is to improve your mental health and well-being, not to cause additional stress or harm.

The study does not suggest completely forgoing anti-depressants for exercise. What it does highlight is the immense potential of regular physical activity in boosting mental well-being. It's twice as effective as medication for some individuals, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your treatment plan. 

You could set achievable goals, find an exercise buddy, or incorporate physical activities that you enjoy into your routine. Keeping track of your progress can also be a powerful motivator. 

Absolutely! You don't have to be a seasoned athlete to benefit from exercise. Start slow and gradually increase your endurance. It's never too late to start exercising. Even low-intensity activities like walking or yoga can bring about significant improvements in your mood and overall mental health. 



GHBY Team comprises content writers and content editors who specialise in health and lifestyle writing. Always on the lookout for new trends in the health and lifestyle space, Team GHBY follows an audience-first approach. This ensures they bring the latest in the health space to your fingertips, so you can stay ahead in your wellness game. 

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Our team of experts frequently monitors developments in the health and wellness field, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

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