How Exercises Impacts Depression: The Top 5 Scientific Theories

by Richard

According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people have depression globally which make it the leading cause of disability around the world.

Researchers have been interested in studying the impacts of physical exercise on reducing stress and depression since the early 1990s. In recent years, there has been a considerable increase in the number of studies that point towards a positive exercise-depression relationship (in case of mild to moderate depression) and exercise’s usage as an adjunct treatment.

The Top Five Hypotheses

Scientists have analyzed the importance of exercise in reducing the stress levels of a depressed mind from a plethora of angles, and there have been some hypotheses that explain the association between physical workout and depression. Let’s learn what the top three of these theories say:

The Endorphins Hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that exercise releases chemical “endorphins” in the body. These endorphins then interact with receptors in the brain which are responsible for reducing the feeling of pain in the body. These endorphins are believed to act as analgesics, and they also generate that happy feeling in the mind and the body that many of us feel after a workout.

The Thermogenic Hypothesis

The thermogenic hypothesis suggests that exercise increases the core body temperature which then results in decreasing the symptoms of depression. This increase in body temperature impacts the temperature of some areas of the brain (such as the brain stem) as well which can increase relaxation while decreasing muscular tension concurrently.

The Monoamine Hypothesis

This hypothesis states that exercise leads to an increase in the availability of brain neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) that are diminished with depression.

The Distraction Hypothesis

This hypothesis postulates that exercise helps in moving one’s attention away from such thoughts and behavioral traits which cause depression.

In general, the use of distracting activities has been found to be more beneficial in managing depression as compared to activities like journaling or any others that cause self-reflection.

The Self-Efficacy Hypothesis

Depressed people often feel little or no strength to be able to complete tasks or to create positive impacts in their lives. This in turn, may make them feel even more depressed and helpless. According to the self-efficacy hypothesis exercise can help depressed people feel more confident, motivated, and having the ability manage their health.

From the above discussion it can be summarized that indulging oneself in physical activity can lead to the following benefits:

  • Release of stress fighting brain chemicals endorphins
  • Increase in self-confidence which can boost one’s morale and make one happier
  • Taking one’s mind off worries and negative thoughts

Additional Benefits of Exercise

Moreover, exercise can also help fight insomnia and ensure better and longer sleep. Moreover, exercise has been known to have positive effects on the heart, lungs, blood pressure, muscle strength and overall immunity as well.

So are you ready to work out today? Even 15 minutes would be enough for a start.

Feel free to anonymously ask others users of Supportiv (available on iTunes and the Google Play Store)  on what their most favorite exercise routines are for coping with depression.

Disclaimer: Please note that exercise is no substitute therapy and meds and if you are feeling depressed you must see a doctor as soon as possible.


Written by Ann PietrangeloMedically Reviewed by, Depression and Mental Health by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You. Healthline. Available at: [Accessed March 16, 2017].
Craft, L.L. & Perna, F.M., 2004. The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Available at: [Accessed March 16, 2017].

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