Exercise & Depression: Why Fitness Leads to a Happier You


Whenever I am feeling down, I can always guarantee that going for a run, horseback riding, hiking with friends, or teaching a group exercise class will instantly lift my mood. Can a few minutes on the treadmill make your emotional problems disappear? Most likely not. However, a regular exercise routine can certainly decrease depression, enhance mood, and result in many other health benefits. Getting active can potentially be the key to living a happier life!Chelsea Hiking
For someone dealing with depression or anxiety, exercise may often be the last thing he or she wants to do. Simply taking medication may seem easier than getting into the gym. However, some studies have shown that the benefits of exercise continue to last longer than the benefits of anti-depressants. Perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of exercise is the way it naturally makes you feel. Exercise has proven to be a very effective, but often neglected, method of treating mild to moderate depression. Why is this?

When you exercise, your body produces chemicals called endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in the body. They also act as analgesics, which diminish the perception of pain, improve immunity, and prevent depression from worsening. Exercising also increases body temperature, which may have calming effects on the individual. Other psychological benefits of exercise may include the following:

  • Toe Touch - ChelseaIncreased self-esteem and confidence
  • Reduced stress
  • Distraction from worries or negative thoughts
  • Improved sleep
  • Coping in a healthy way (instead of turning to drugs, alcohol, binge eating, etc.)


As if that wasn’t enough convincing, exercise can also result in the following health benefits:

  • Strengthen heart and lungs
  • Strengthen and build bones
  • Improve blood sugar levels (treat diabetes)
  • Increase energy levels
  • Increase muscular strength and endurance
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Reduce body fat

If you are someone who struggles with enjoying exercise, you don’t necessarily need to limit yourself to hours in the gym! Consider other methods of physical activity Chelsea Ridingsuch as walking or biking outside, playing tennis with friends, yard work at your home, swimming in the pool, etc. Also, since social support is important for those with depression, participating in group exercise classes or working out with a friend or partner may be beneficial.  Check out your local gym for class schedules and group training options or make plans with a friend to get together for workouts.

If you can create the time, get past the sweat (and sometimes soreness) and make exercise a part of your weekly routine, you will find yourself smiling much more often!

What will you do to release some endorphins today? Share your comments below!


About Author

Chelsea Jones

Sr. Associate Recreation Fitness Program Coordinator

Chelsea received her Bachelors in Exercise Science from UNC Wilmington. Realizing her own weight loss journey in college was what solidified her decision to work in the health and fitness industry. Upon graduating, she worked as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and exercise specialist before landing in her role at the RFC. Here, Chelsea loves creating both fun & high intensity classes for participants, and teaching yoga. Off campus, you may find her exercising her rescue pup, riding horses, or sipping a latte at a local coffee shop. Chelsea is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine, and is a licensed instructor through YogaFit, Zumba, and more.

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