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Agape Physical Therapy

The Effects of Exercise on Depression and Anxiety

Parrie Wyatt
Exercise Science Intern and Client Services Advocate 


Depression and anxiety disorders currently affect 40 million adults in the United States. Completing regular exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate & stabilize mood, improve sleep patterns and improve self confidence. Exercise can also be used to take your mind off worries, cope in a healthy way and make new social interactions. These benefits and more have direct links to improving one’s mental health when dealing with depression and anxiety.

There is overwhelming research supporting exercise has positive psychological benefits for those struggling with anxiety and depression. Educators from the University of Toronto gathered and analyzed 26 years worth of studies regarding the topic and concluded that exercise, even only moderate amounts, can ward off symptoms of depression. Studies have also shown that a structured exercise plan is not necessary in order to reap the positive psychological benefits.  Just completing physical activity can activate the benefits. Exercising 30 minutes three to five times per week may significantly reduce symptoms but smaller amounts such as 10-15 minutes still make a difference. The more intense the exercise the less time needed to feel relief.

Exercise causes the release of positive brain chemicals into the brain such as endorphins, neurotransmitters and more. These chemicals are what is responsible for lightening and stabilizing your mood. Immune system chemicals can also worsen depression but exercising helps to reduce the presence of these chemicals. An increase in body temperature also has ties to create a calming affect. During and post exercise your body temperature will be elevated so it naturally creates a calming effect.

Physical activity or exercise may also prevent anxiety & depression from returning once you’re feeling better so it is important to not quit. Identify an exercise or physical activity you enjoy and set reasonable goals. Determine what is stopping you from reaching your activity goals and create an action plan to target those barriers and move past them. Lastly, don't be discouraged by setbacks. Yes they’re inconvenient and can be discouraging but maintain your focus on your goals. By doing so you will see both physical and psychological benefits.

Working with a physical therapist may be the first step to starting a regular exercise program. They specialize in designing an exercise program that is tailored to your current fitness levels and medical history.  


Bergland, Christopher. "25 Studies Confirm: Exercise Prevents Depression." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 09 July 2017.
"Exercise for Stress and Anxiety." Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Web. 09 July 2017.
Mayo Clinic Staff . "Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 July 2017.