Does Exercise Prevent Depression?

Does Exercise Prevent Depression?

Depression is a mental disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, and difficulty in completing daily tasks. It is one of the most common mental health problems, with an estimated 350 million people affected worldwide. Exercise has long been proposed as a possible treatment for depression, but does it actually help? This article will discuss the potential benefits of exercise in preventing and treating depression.


Exercise is defined as any physical activity that increases energy expenditure and maintains or improves physical health. This includes activities such as running, walking, cycling, swimming, and weight training. Exercise has many health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, increased muscle mass, and improved mental health.


The idea of using exercise to treat depression has been around since the early 1800s. In 1849, Scottish physician William B. Carpenter suggested that physical exercise could be used to treat depression. In the 1950s, American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Karen Horney suggested that exercise could improve mental health. Since then, numerous studies have been conducted to explore the potential benefits of exercise in preventing and treating depression.


Numerous studies have examined the efficacy of exercise in treating depression. A 2017 meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials found that exercise was an effective treatment for depression, particularly in the short-term. Another study conducted in 2020 found that regular exercise was associated with a lower risk of depression in adults. A systematic review in 2019 concluded that exercise had a moderate to large effect size in reducing symptoms of depression.


The evidence suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression, particularly in the short-term. Regular exercise may also help to prevent depression. It is important to note, however, that exercise is not a substitute for other treatments such as medication and psychotherapy. Exercise should be used in combination with other treatments for best results.


Carpenter, W.B. (1849). On the influence of bodily exercise on the mental functions. London: Smith, Elder and Co.

Horney, K. (1951). The Neurotic Personality of Our Time. Norton.

Teychenne, M., Ball, K., & Salmon, J. (2017). Exercise for depression: a systematic review and meta‚Äźanalysis. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(1), 1-17.

Laukkanen, A., Strandberg, T., & Rovio, S. (2020). Exercise and the risk of depression: A 20-year follow-up study. Preventive Medicine, 132, 106018.

Webb, M.L., Piacentini, A., Ramos, C.C., & Tricco, A.C. (2019). Exercise interventions for depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews, 8(1), 1-14.

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