April 8, 2021/Exercise & Fitness

Get Happy: Why Exercise Can Lift Your Mood

How to keep the blues at bay and reap health benefits, too

happy man biking through city exercise

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common illness globally. It affects about 264 million people worldwide, and when it’s moderate or severe, it can turn into a serious health problem. While psychotherapy and medication are effective, there is one treatment for depression that is free and universally available — exercise.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Not only can exercise help ease depression, but it can also lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile, help control blood sugar and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes and common cancers,” says integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD. And of course, exercise can make it possible to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

How exercise can make you happy

Physical activity, along with food choices and stress levels, can profoundly affect mood and reduce your risks of anxiety and depression. Here are five reasons why exercise can put you in better spirits.

1. Stress is less likely to lead to depression if you exercise

It’s a sad fact, but according to the CDC data released in 2019, 4.7% of adults age 18 or older have regular feelings of depression. High-stress lifestyles tend to be a major source of depression.

Mood matters. The increased release of stress hormones can damage or prevent cell growth in the regions of the brain that control our moods.

Therapy helps. Psychotherapy and anti-depressants can be effective. However, about one-third of people with depression utilize them.

2. Exercise is a legitimate treatment for depression

It’s official. The American Psychiatric Association recommends exercise as a treatment option for depression. It’s effective alone or when combined with standard treatments.

And it works. Randomized trials offer solid evidence that aerobic (walking, running, biking) and resistance/ strength training benefits those with depression.

Advertisement

Keep it up. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week. We know it sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not. Just break it up into five 30-minute sessions a week.

The fog will lift. Depression can lift within four weeks of starting an exercise routine.

3. You can establish a workout routine that you enjoy

Take strides towards a better mood. Enjoy walking? Work up to 10,000 steps a day to reap the best health benefits.

Shake a leg. If you lose interest, try a new fitness class. Sign up for Zumba. Begin a yoga practice. Start cycling with friends.

Or save time. Ask your doctor if brief, high-intensity circuit training using bodyweight might work for you. No equipment is needed and you can do it anywhere.

4. Any amount of exercise can help

It’s all good. If you’re not meeting exercise guidelines, don’t despair. Some physical activity can still reduce depression. Dr. Todorov’s motto is “Some is good, more is better.”

Meet and greet. Socializing with others in virtual or in-person fitness classes can help boost your mood. Find a buddy to motivate and support you.

Advertisement

5. Enjoy benefits that extend beyond the brain

Have a healthier future. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile and help control blood sugar.

Get sturdier bones. Exercise strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility and balance and helps strengthens bones.

See a leaner side of yourself. Regular physical activity helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight and look your best.

No medication can do so much! Exercise is a fabulous prescription for health. It’s free. It’s readily available, and if you choose something you like, it’s fun.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person on scale, questioning muscle weight vs. fat weight
April 12, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Difference Between Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight

Both are needed for a healthy body

Person in office doing leg lifts
April 10, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
5 Psoas Stretches and Exercises

Counteract psoas muscle stiffness and soreness with stretches that lengthen and strengthen

Muscular person using weight machine in gym, headphones around neck
April 8, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Is It Bad To Do the Same Workout Every Day?

It may be OK, depending on your health, fitness level and type of exercise

Person stretching neck at work desk in front of monitor
April 5, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
8 Posture Exercises To Sit and Stand Straighter

Simple exercises like wall angels and pelvic tilts can help keep your body in an optimal position — and help undo years of improper posture habits

female sitting meditating, eyes closed
March 19, 2024/Weight Loss
14 Ways To Lose Belly Fat

Losing belly fat can reduce your risk for chronic health conditions — try focusing on a diet high in lean protein, exercising regularly, reducing stress and getting quality ZZZs

person running with food and fitness images floating behind
March 6, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Is It Safe to Work Out While You’re Fasting?

It’s best to exercise before or after your fast, instead of during it

Older couple talk while leisurely walk across a bridge
February 29, 2024/Heart Health
Can You Exercise After a Heart Attack?

Absolutely! In fact, in many ways, exercise is key to recovery

Person in bikini at beach with hip area accented showing hip dips
February 22, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Your ‘Hip Dips’ Are Normal — And They Aren’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

Your bone structure determines whether you have a visible dent between your hips and your thighs

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad