Can Depression be Treated with Physical Exercise?
The simplest answer is likely an obvious one: yes, exercise can help reduce the effects of depression on affected individuals. Parsing apart the hows, whys, and other important questions, however, may be a bit more complicated. It’s no secret that when it comes to exercise, your physical body is better off with it than without it: reduce risk for heart disease, healthier weight, and better sleep are just some of the physical payoffs that come with good exercise habits. When it comes to your mental health, it may be no different. Exercise and physical activity can have a positive impact on your overall mental health. It can help clinically depressed individuals maintain and control the issue by acting as a natural antidepressant. [1,2, 3]
In What Proven Ways Can Exercise Treat Depression?
Knowing that exercise can help maintain mental health as well as physical is great, but the cause and effect may not be as obvious in the former than in the latter. Still, we are able to take what researchers and mental health professionals have learned so far and use it to heal and strengthen ourselves in terms of both mind and body. So, what ways do we know that exercise helps treat low moods and depression?
The first most obvious, simplest way that we know that exercise works to help alleviate symptoms of depression is that both inside and outside of research labs, depressed individuals report an improvement in mood following exercise . This may seem overly simplistic, but so is exercise — and in a good way! Many turn to more natural routes to treat their depression because of the simplicity as well as the extended history of use behind these drug-free remedies for mental illness. The reported proof that exercise beats depression gives clout to the idea of simplifying our solutions regarding health and well-being.
Exercise has shown to lower certain quantitative depression scores which are used by clinicians to assess depression levels in a systematic way. The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (or HAM-D) is such a reference scale that allows doctors, therapists, and researchers to apply a quantitative and objective rating to an individual’s depression. It can be used as a tool to indicate a change in one’s depression from an outside perspective. Studies have revealed exercise to lower these kinds of scores in depressed individuals. [1, 5]
Exercise can bust up the worst of moods. Studies have shown that the worse depression may be in a person, the bigger the change in mood toward a more positive direction. This was especially apparent in those who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and had been previously diagnosed with clinical or persistent depression. Clinically depressed patients involved in exercise studies fairly consistently saw greater results from exercising than those going through an isolated bout of non-persistent depression. [1, 4]
Exercising has been proven to work as a natural antidepressant with consistent positive results even over extended periods of time. Depressed patients studied over the course of a decade were able to show researchers that exercise remained a successful remedy to maintain depressive symptoms over this course of time. 
Some treatments for depression may waiver in their efficacy either over time or from individual to individual as we discover more about depression and mental illness. However, exercise remains a constant as a natural way to truly help boost your mood and maintain your depression. One of the hardest aspects of this seemingly simple solution lies at the core of the problem. For depressed individuals, exercise may not be an easy task to undergo. Here are a couple of tips to help edge you toward a natural remedy that could change your life for the better...
Tips for Finding Motivation to Exercise When You’re Depressed
For a depressed person, the suggestion of adding exercise to an already difficult day-to-day routine may appear, at first, like an impossible idea. In many depressed individuals, getting out of bed can sometimes feel like a hurdle, so how is one supposed to add exercise to what can be an already daunting to-do list?
Start with something easy to face — start small. A walk, a light jog, taking the stairs or even aerobics in your living room. While more vigorous activity is usually best for a bad mood, starting slow is easier on your body and your motivation level. [1, 7]
Find an exercise you ENJOY doing. There are options out there from sports to individual activities. Find something that appeals to you, and feels like something you may be able to enjoy (and improve at!) over time.
Improving your mood is your top priority. Sometimes competitive activities can lead to overdoing it physically or worsening your mental state. Remember to keep it light, fun, and easy on yourself--especially when starting out.