Depression: Exercise as a Treatment Option

by Kaitelynn T.

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in Canada. Through a community survey the Public Health Agency of Canada determined that 11.3% of adults living in Canada identified symptoms that meet the criteria for depression. With such a high rate of the population being affected researchers have become increasingly interested in finding new and alternative treatments to treat or assist in treating the symptoms of depression. One of the new ways to treat depression that researchers are exploring is exercise.

Although never diagnosed with depression, I along with everyone else, have experienced a range of high and low days. Once I started university I found that the lows were becoming more frequent. In high school I always had a sport to play and therefore exercised on a daily basis. However, once in university I had little to no exercise and didn’t participate in intramural sports. About halfway through my first year I decided to try going for a run and found an immediate improvement in my mood. It became a habit to go for a run a couple times a week and I found that the lows were not so frequent anymore. Even on my bad days going for a run was a way to focus solely on breathing and moving my legs. Looking back on this I decided to look into what research had been done on the topic of exercise as a treatment option for depression. I found many articles where the data indicated that exercise did indeed have a positive effect on the symptoms of depression.

The first article I examined was, Exercise as a Treatment Option for Depression: A Meta-analysis Adjusting for Publication Bias, by Schuch et al. This article states that “Our data strongly support the claim that that exercise is an evidence based treatment for depression”. This article does specify that some types of exercise are more effective than other. For example it found that moderate aerobic activities led by a professional appeared to have a larger positive impact on individuals than other types of self-led exercise. Another article I looked at was, Exercise as a Treatment for Depression in Elders, by Carol Palmer. This study reports “Increasing physical activity markedly reduces depressive symptoms and is a safe adjunct or alternative to medication therapy”. This study goes on to state that “Physical activity should be recommended to patients of all ages”. These studies show that exercise can greatly reduce depressive symptoms and creates an alternative treatment option for those struggling with depression. It is important for people to try a range of treatments in order to find an option that is best suited for the individual. As stated by Palmer exercise can be used along with other treatments for depression.

The point of this blog is not to tell people that exercise will cure your depression or that people on medication for depression should stop taking it and simply exercise. The point of this blog is to help make people aware that exercise has a huge impact on our mental wellness and should be reinforced as an important part of staying healthy not just physically but mentally as well.


Pearson, Caryn, Teresa Janz and Jennifer Ali. 2013. “Mental and substance use disorders in Canada” Health at a Glance. September. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-624-X.

Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (June 01, 2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42-51.

Palmer, C. (February 01, 2005). Exercise as a treatment for depression in elders. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 17, 2, 60-66.