Best Exercises For Depression

Implementing a healthy routine in your life such as exercise can immensely prove your mental health. If you are depressed or have been diagnosed clinically depressed, then chances are you may find it very difficult to get up and exercise. Let’s beat this. Exercise is the key to happy living and I will show you why and how. In this article, I will also list the best exercises for depression.

Can exercise help depression?

Of course it can. You probably knew that. What disadvantages does exercise have to your mental and physical health? I can’t think of any other than excising too much and exhausting yourself into an unhealthy state. There are numerous benefits associated between exercise and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. It can make a big difference.

First of all, exercise helps your physical state, leading to a healthy body as well as improving several health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, and arthritis. With the benefits of exercise and physical health comes the benefits of exercise and mental health.

Clinical research has shown that exercise can decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety leading to an overall state of emotional well-being, elevated mood, increased brain power, and mental stability.

How does exercise treat depression?

By exercising, your brain is releasing endorphins (feel-good chemicals) that are essentially hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system. They are proteins that activate the body’s opiate receptors, resulting in elevated feelings.

When you implement exercise into your lifestyle, you are also strengthening your immune system. This helps reduce inflammation (inflammation can lead to feelings of depression) in the body and the mind. Exercise also increases your overall body temperature which leads to feelings of relaxation, thereby decreasing anxiety symptoms.

There are many other psychological benefits associated with exercise that can improve your mental health state:

  • Distraction – By exercising, you are in a healthy state. Your mind and body are performing tasks and workout activities that serves as taking your mind away from negative thoughts. Depression and anxiety feed your brain with negative thoughts. Exercise helps combat and excrete these negative thoughts by putting you in a motivated, healthy mind state.
  • Confidence – You will notice an immense self-confidence boost from exercising. By completing your workout goals and generally getting into shape, your mind generates a state of satisfaction, thereby resulting in an elevated mood.
  • Gain a Social Atmosphere – You may notice that by working out, you are surrounding yourself with like-minded people who share similar interests. These people are friendly and are trying to achieve their physical and mental goals just like you. Engage, have fun, and you may even find a workout buddy.
  • Healthy Body Transitions to a Healthy Mind – Your mind is physically and mentally linked to your body. Make it your goal to also stay fit or become fit. You should exercise not only for benefits towards your mental health, but also your physical health. By gaining muscle mass, slimming down, or sweating out the unwanted toxins, your body will feel satisfied and so too will your mind. Maybe make a workout journal where you can try to improve your exercises each time. Maybe set a new personal record. This will definitely elevate your spirit.

Top 10 Exercises for Depression:

  1. Yoga
    • I love Yoga. I find it does wonders to the mind and body. There are many mental benefits of yoga. It helps to relieve tension, stress, inflammation, and strain. Yoga puts you into a state of relaxation and distraction, calming the central nervous system. You feed out your negative thoughts and encompass yourself with feelings of positivity during this exercise.
    • Your mind is at a constant state of attention and focus, thereby resulting in increased intellectual stability, mind function, and brain power. With the mental state increase, your physical state will also increase as you sweat out the unwanted toxins in your body. 
    • You feel a sense of connectivity during this exercise. Surrounding yourself with positive, relaxed people, your mind will ease its way into a state of emotional well-being. Yoga has also proven to increase the level of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) that helps regulate nerve activity. With an increase in GABA, your mind transitions into a state of calmness, resulting in a decrease of anxiety. GABA can also come in natural form as a supplement that effectively decreases anxiety. Read my full GABA review. I practice yoga weekly and I find it is a great help towards my mental health. It boosts my self-confidence, increases my mood and behavior, and overall elevates my mind into a state of elevation.
  2. Hiking
    • This exercise can serve as a great opportunity to get out and enjoy Earth’s nature. Surround yourself in a healthy atmosphere full of nature’s finest gifts like trees, hills, wild-life etc. Breathe in the healthy chemicals and let your mind at ease as it does its work. Listen to the sounds and calls of nature as you hike.
    • Incline and decline on your route. By inclining, your body is at a tense state of work. You are really pushing yourself towards satisfaction, thereby releasing more endorphins to elevate your mood. Push yourself and really focus on each step as new milestone in battling your unhealthy mental state. The further you go, the better you will feel. Then decline when you are ready. Travel at a steady pace as you descend down your route. Look at this as your relaxing cool down. Feed out these negative impulses that are affecting your mental health. Ease your way down and let your mind process the great workout you just put in.
    • Through this, you will no doubt feel a sense of elevated mood and behavior. I love hiking but unfortunately I don’t live near any good trails. So sometimes, I will drive out to the nearest one and enjoy a good hour to two hour hike. Make sure you bring proper fluids!
  3. Running
    • Essentially this exercise is the easiest to implement in your life. Use your treadmill if you don’t feel like going outside. If you want to go outside, then pick a route. Run around your block or the city. Go to a park and do laps around a soccer field or a track. If the weather is not good, that is okay. Sometimes I find a run in the rain or wind is a great way to escape my mind for a bit.
    • Implement your own pace. While you run, again feed out the negative thoughts that are diminishing your mental health. Think positively and that after this run, your body and mind will feel that much better. Even if you have to slow down a bit to a walk, that is okay. Give your body and mind time to advance if you are tired. Run like there is no worries in your life.
    • I love running and listening to music at the same time. Listening to upbeat, positive music really puts me into an elevated state of motivation and determination. I can beat this. I can beat my negativity. I can beat my depression. Running combats these thoughts. There is a strong link between cardio exercise and mental health. Your body and brain are connected in a way that both will simultaneously feel good during and after your run. Please give it a try.
    • Besides your mental health, you will notice a steady improvement within your physical health. Your heart will strengthen as well as your muscles, tissues, and bones. Again, pack proper fluids and enjoy your run.
  4. Bench Press
    • Personally, this is my favorite exercise to combat my mental health issues. There is something about weight-lifting that puts me into an ultra-state of motivation, thereby generating happiness. If you are a woman, you may not be too keen on bench-pressing. However that is okay. Other weight-lifting exercises such as curls, over head press, shoulder press, dumbbell flys will all do the trick. Maybe bench press the bar if you don’t feel like adding weight just yet.
    • Don’t get me wrong, I still implement a mass amount of cardio in my workouts as I love those exercises too. However with bench-press, I can see myself lifting this negative weight away from me. I am constantly pushing this weight ahead of me and it feels so good. It feels like I have lifted 150 pounds away that was trapped on my body. This in turn releases endorphins in my brain, resulting in an increase of serotonin.
    • When you are weight-lifting, look at the weights as your enemy. Look at them like they are the ones feeding you negative thoughts. Become motivated and push this weight away from you! You will feel better during and after this exercise.
  5. Stair Climbing
    • After my weight-lifting exercises, I love to hop on the stair master. It really gets the juices flowing and is a killer for my legs. Again, I imagine myself climbing to the top of the world. With every step comes an increase in elevation in not only height, but mood and happiness.
    • Feel determined and motivated as you climb your stairs. Increase and decrease your pace as you see fit. After all, you are always going up. Focus on your mind and body working together as you complete this exercise. Feel your legs aching and working with every step of the way.
    • With this exercise, I find comes a mass amount of satisfaction. I will feel sore after but that is the cost to working out. No pain, no gain! These aching muscles make you feel better about your physical and mental health. You will also notice a great improvement in falling asleep after a tense workout – something I can always look forward to after my exercise. Hop on the stair master or climb your stairs at work. It does work to elevate your spirits.
  6. Meditation
    • This exercise serves as an excellent mechanism for relaxation, distraction, and calmness. You will notice an improvement in decreasing your anxiety and depression as your central nervous system is completely relaxed during this exercise. The Harvard Medical School states mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety and mental stress.
    • I like to find an open space – sometimes my bedroom floor or an open field where there is hardly any distraction. I like to listen to anti-anxiety music while I meditate. There’s tons out there. Just search it on the net or search mediation music and you will find some great melodies.
    • Really focus on diminishing all thoughts during your meditation. Put your mind in a healthy but relaxing state. Think positively or think of the things that make you happy such as your place of happiness or your family and friends you love. Or, don’t think at all. Let your mind do the work as you meditate and really put yourself into a state of openness. I love meditation and I find myself deeply relaxed and elevated after I am done. I usually meditate for around 30 minutes at at time and I find it does the trick.
  7. Walking
    • If you don’t feel like running, then walk. Your body and mind is still receiving the proper exercise they need by walking. Personally, I like to run, but that is just me. Some prefer walking and that is completely okay.
    • Walking still releases endorphins, thereby contributing to feelings of emotional well-being and brain power. The best thing about walking is that you can do it anywhere. Walk around your house. Walk around your block or the park. Focus on strengthening your muscles as well as your mind as you walk. Again, if you are outside, really take in the nature and outside atmosphere. The outside world is full of positivity and should be absorbed in.
  8. Squats
    • This is another weight-lifting exercise that I find does wonders to the mind and body. Similar to bench-press, I love to lift heavy weights from my legs. I really focus on lifting this negativity away and out of me as I squat.
    • If you don’t like to lift weights by squatting, then just doing squats in the open will do the trick as well. Focus on the muscle tension in your legs/thighs and really excrete this tension as you lift up from your squat. This will keep you motivated and determined on the course of your workout.
    • With motivation and determination comes satisfaction, which will all help your mental state. Feel good, workout positively, and you will find yourself in an improved mental state after this exercise.
  9. Core Exercises
    • I find a lot of people hate core. I feel like people don’t like the tension of working out the abdominal region of the body. As for me, it’s one of my favorite workouts. I love the tension and after the workout, yes I will feel sore, but the productivity and progress I make on my six-pack makes up for it.
    • Sit-ups, crunches, planks, leg-lifters, ab rollers are just a few of the great core exercises you can add to your list to help you improve your mental state. Your abdominal region is a very sensitive part of the body, so with a good workout in this area, you will immensely strengthen your muscles and mind. With a heavy-fueled workout in one area of the body (in this case – the core) you will notice your mind really focuses and comes to attention. That is great for mental stability and will definitely increase feelings of emotional and behavioral well-being.
  10. Dancing
    • Now this is one that I do not do a whole lot. Mainly because you could say I am a terrible dancer. But nonetheless, dance is extremely important for our mental health. Whether you like the salsa, zumba, or just dancing it out, dance is all the same and you are expressing yourself through it. It definitely serves as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. 
    • Some people like to say that dance is an expression of art, emotion, and thoughts. While you dance, really eject these emotions from you. Dance away the pain and encompass yourself within positivity, optimism, and happiness.
    • Listen to music while you dance. I guess that is a no-brainer but I think some people prefer dance with no music sometimes. All in all, dance is a connection between the mind and body and serves as great exercise to combat mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If you don’t want to get out and about to dance, just turn the music up in your room, and have a solo dance party.

Does exercise help depression?

Now you know for sure that it does! Implement exercise into your life and you will notice a great improvement towards your mental health. Exercise is the key to life as I have mentioned. I would also like to emphasize a healthy diet routine as in combination, these will be great towards your mental state.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these exercises or even if you have one to add. Please comment below to let me know what you think.

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  1. My favorite exercise is running / walking. I live in a port city and we have one of the largest beaches of our country (Mexico). I love to walk and then change it to jogging in the sand. It is a great exercise and very relaxing. It`s great to see and hear the ocean.

    • That’s awesome. Running along the beach seems very relaxing and I can bet that it would definitely enlighten the mood.

  2. Excellent article about exercising to improve mental health. Nice tips!

  3. Thank you very much for this article Rob. I suffer from depression a great deal and always forget that exercising is a KEY factor in combating this mental illness. I will be keeping an eye on this site for sure.

    Kind regards,

    • So happy I am able to help Darcy. Exercise is extremely important for a healthy body and a healthy mind. The best thing about it is that it’s easy to implement in our lives. Find the motivation and stay dedicated in getting your exercise in and you will notice an improvement to your mental health life.

  4. I try to work out regularly, twice or three times a week. If I ignore work out for a long time, I can feel my emotion goes unbalanced. So I agree with you, that healthy body transitions to a healthy mind. And it also goes to the other way around; healthy mind creates a healthy body. It is an unending cycle of life! I love meditation. Meditation helps me calm my mind when my mind starts chattering (and often that chattering leads to negative thoughts).

    • Yes, I agree with you. The body and mind are physically and emotionally linked that one cannot function without the other. A healthy mind leads to a healthy body and vice versa. Meditation is great. It is a relaxation, distraction, and coping mechanism to help battle depression and anxiety. Glad I could help.

  5. This is great, lots of useful ideas here. I would go hiking more if it didn’t make me so depressed looking at my fuel gauge draining on the long drives out to where I can hike.

    Thanks for sharing, I look forward to future posts to help me combat my depression.

    • Hi Sam. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to hike for those that do not live near a trail. But implementing other workout methods and exercises in your routine will definitely do the trick. Glad I could help.

  6. Hi Rob,
    I do agree with you that exercise can make you feel better about yourself. I have taken up a gym membership lately and have been running on the treadmill for around 20 minutes during my lunch time. It does take my mind off the unhappy thoughts or stress that I am facing, and I do feel more relieved after sweating it out.

    I think the challenge is taking the first step i.e. getting out of the couch or bed and do it. Once you do that and see how much better it makes you feel, you will want to do it again and again.

    • Great to hear Alex. Running everyday or even 3 or 4 times a week for 20 minutes is exceptional. That will definitely increase your mind function, elevate your mood and behavior, and lead to a healthy body overall. Congratulations. Exactly, the first step is always the hardest one. But we can all make that step!

  7. Exercising has so many benefits along with curing depression. I am so glad someone is writing this kind of information. America is rapidly becoming the most obese depressed people in the world. Exercise is certainly a cure along with many others like less device time, social interaction, etc.

    • I agree with you Ellen. The number of cases regarding mental illness such as depression is increasing every year. It is great to implement techniques in your life to help combat this such as exercise, socializing, natural supplements, and just getting out more. Thank you for reaching out.

  8. I thought the information was very helpful and it gave me some answers I needed.Keep up the good work.

    • So happy I could help Chrissie. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask!

  9. Rob,
    Great job on this article. I like how you have provided the natural ways to combat depression. Far too often people turn to prescription medication to handle depression. This article really hits home for me as my spouse fights with depression and you have now provided me with excellent recommendations I can provide her to help.
    Great job and I really enjoyed the read.

    • Glad I could help Lance. Exercise is the key to healthy living. Spread the word as more people need to realize this.

  10. This is really informative. I certainly agree that dancing is a great way to express your emotions. I think I’ll join a dance class.

  11. Hi Rob,

    Another outstanding post! So much great information here. It’s funny but my partner and I just started taking dancing lessons last week and absolutely loved it! I am not really a dancer but I think we can all dance a little bit. It was great fun and I guarantee every one there was feeling energised and alive. We are definitely going to keep at it now each week. Really is a best exercise for depression.
    I also love my meditation and gym so seems that is the reason I am always happy and positive haha! All your suggestions work. I have tried them all however must get into a bit more hiking.

    Thanks again,


    • Hey Kev, that is great to hear. Who knew that dancing is in all of us! Glad to hear that it helps the mind and body! Very happy to hear that you are taking the appropriate measures to stay healthy and happy. If you have any other questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know!

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