Physical Activity as a Potential Treatment for Depression: A Comprehensive Review

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Physical Activity as a Potential Treatment for Depression: A Comprehensive Review


Depression, a widespread mental health condition affecting millions globally, often warrants interventions involving psychotherapy and medication. However, emerging research suggests that physical activities such as walking, jogging, and yoga may play a significant role in mitigating symptoms alongside traditional therapies.

Benefits of Exercise for Depression

A recent review of 218 trials involving over 14,000 participants revealed the efficacy of physical activity in alleviating depression. The analysis indicated that strenuous activities, such as dance, yielded greater benefits compared to moderate-intensity exercises like walking, jogging, yoga, and strength training. Notably, mixed aerobic exercises, tai chi, and qigong also demonstrated effectiveness.

Synergies and Individualized Benefits

Combining physical activity with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or psychotherapy can further enhance its therapeutic effects. Furthermore, certain exercises appear to be more effective based on age and gender, with strength training proving particularly beneficial for women, while yoga and qigong seem to be more effective for men.

Underlying Mechanisms

The positive effects of exercise on depression are attributed to various factors, including social interaction, increased mindfulness, and exposure to green spaces. These factors promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.

Limitations and Implementation Considerations

Despite the promising findings, the quality of evidence remains low, and long-term monitoring of participants is limited. Barriers such as physical, psychological, or social factors may also hinder exercise participation in some cases.

Nevertheless, the research team advocates for the inclusion of exercise in clinical practice guidelines for depression, particularly emphasizing the benefits of vigorous-intensity exercise. They suggest that healthcare systems should offer these treatments as alternatives or adjuvants to other established interventions, while also mitigating the physical health risks associated with depression.


Physical activity, particularly vigorous-intensity exercise, shows promise as a potential treatment for depression. By promoting social interaction, mindfulness, and exposure to green spaces, it complements traditional therapies and improves overall well-being. However, it is essential to address barriers to participation and conduct further research to strengthen the evidence base.


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  • American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 48(4): 437-447.

About the Author

Amelia Roberts is a freelance health writer specializing in mental health and well-being. She holds a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Oxford and has published numerous articles on topics related to mental health, mindfulness, and self-care.

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