The Promise of Exercise as a Treatment for Depression

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By Dr. Emily Carter


Depression, a debilitating condition affecting millions worldwide, has traditionally been treated with psychotherapy and medications. However, recent research suggests that exercise could play a pivotal role in alleviating its symptoms.

A comprehensive review of 218 randomized controlled trials involving over 14,000 participants with depression revealed that exercise, when employed as an adjunct therapy, effectively reduced depression symptoms.

Types of Exercise and Their Effectiveness

The review identified several types of exercise as beneficial for depression, including:

  • Walking and jogging, considered low-intensity activities, still provided clinically meaningful effects.
  • Yoga and strength training demonstrated moderate reductions in depression.
  • More vigorous activities, such as running and interval training, produced greater benefits.

Notably, certain exercises exhibited varying effectiveness based on participant demographics:

  • Strength training was more effective for women.
  • Yoga and qigong were more beneficial for men.
  • Yoga was more effective among older adults, while strength training proved more effective for younger individuals.

Exercise in Conjunction with Other Treatments

The review also investigated the effects of exercise when combined with established depression treatments:

  • Moderate, clinically meaningful effects were observed when exercise was combined with SSRIs.
  • Combining aerobic exercise with psychotherapy also produced positive outcomes.

Limitations and Future Directions

While the review suggests the effectiveness of exercise for depression, it acknowledges limitations in the evidence:

  • The quality of evidence is generally low.
  • Few trials monitored participants for a year or more.
  • Barriers to participation, such as physical, psychological, or social factors, may exist for some patients.

Despite these limitations, the authors emphasize the need for further research to explore:

  • The mechanisms underlying the positive effects of exercise.
  • The development of evidence-based exercise interventions specifically tailored for depression.
  • Strategies to overcome barriers to participation.


The review provides substantial evidence for the inclusion of exercise in clinical practice guidelines for depression. Health systems should consider offering exercise as an alternative or complement to traditional interventions, recognizing its potential to alleviate depression symptoms and improve overall health.


Carter, E. (2024). The Promise of Exercise as a Treatment for Depression. Retrieved from [Website Address]


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