How the Gym Helps Fight Depression and Anxiety


Can working out be as effective as taking medication? Experts say sometimes, yes.

Depression is so common in the US that one in 10 adults struggles with it. And while antidepressant medications are routinely prescribed as treatment, research shows that exercise is also effective. “For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although for someone with severe depression, exercise alone might not be enough,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.* Here’s how exercise helps fight depression (along with even more health benefits), how much exercise you need and for how long it works.

How does exercise fight depression?

According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (called “endogenous cannabinoids”) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being.

Another mental health benefit of going to the gym is improved self-esteem and brain function. But that’s just the beginning. Working out has been clinically proven to offer many amazing health benefits including: 

  • Improved sleep
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Weight reduction
  • Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Whether you work out at home, or invest in yourself with a gym membership, exercise is so much more than a quest to look good on the outside. Research shows that exercise literally makes you healthier from the inside out.

How much exercise do you need to fight depression?

Experts have found that 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week can improve depression (or anxiety) symptoms significantly. But if that’s not doable, shorter amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may also make a difference. The degree of movement counts too: vigorous activities like running, taking a HIIT+ class, or cycling improve your mood faster than activities like walking. To be clear, walking still helps (and adding a morning walk to your routine has its own list of benefits), but it just might take more time on your feet to achieve the same effect. 

How long do the mental health benefits of going to the gym last?

While your body will likely enjoy a rush of feel-good brain chemicals during or immediately after exercise, the full mental health benefits may only last if you continue working out over the long term. The key to sticking with a lasting exercise routine is to make working out fun by finding physical activities you enjoy. Zumba classes, yoga, cycling, running, and pickleball are just a few of the hottest fitness trends right now, the kind that keep you engaged and actually looking forward to coming to the gym. And there’s always something new happening at the gym, like these fitness trends to watch for in 2023! To reach the full range of mental health benefits, including reduced depression and anxiety, get yourself moving. And keep it up! Your body, and your brain, will thank you.

One-Minute Recap

  • Researchers have found that exercising for 30 minutes at least three days a week can be as effective as medication for some who suffer from depression.  
  • Exercise creates feel-good endorphins and other brain chemicals.
  • The long term effects of exercise on mental health requires continued exercise. As long as you’re working out, you can plan to enjoy the mental health benefits. 

When you’re ready to give yourself the gift of better mental health YouFit Gyms can help! We’ve got every possible class and cardio machine to create a fitness routine to keep you thriving, physically and mentally, from here on out. 

*All medical experts agree that you should absolutely always consult with a doctor before making any changes to prescription medications.

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