Just three weeks of exercise can neutralise depressive symptoms, says science

Feeling down can stunt motivation and various other things but here is how exercise can make a positive change

Man smiles as he exercises outside
(Image credit: Getty)

We often hear people talk about how exercise pumps out our bodies endorphins, otherwise known as ‘feel-good’ hormones. However, recent research suggests that regular exercise can actually change the brain and improve symptoms of depression, not just offer a temporary balm.

As the last few months of the year make days more dark than they are light, the dreary weather can take its toll on our mood - this is why we recommend using a sunrise alarm clock to make waking up in winter that little bit brighter. Many who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) will know how long fall and the preceding winter months can feel.

Researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have revealed the benefits of exercise for sufferers of depression and it doesn’t require any crazy, unattainable workouts – just regular physical activity. So don’t be put off!

Woman looks happy as she walks along a bridge wearing earphones

(Image credit: Getty)

They carried out the research on 41 participants undergoing depressive treatment who had relatively sedentary lifestyles before the study. Dividing the group in two, one half were assigned to a three week exercise programme while the other half received treatment as normal.

The scientists measured the severity of the participants' depressive symptoms before and after the exercise programme and used something called transcranial magnetic stimulation to record the participants' neuroplasticity (which refers to the brain’s ability to change and reorganize itself by forming new neural connections). This can be obstructed by depressive symptoms.

After the three weeks came to an end, the researchers found that depressive symptoms had decreased among the participants who took part in the exercise programme as well as seeing a significant increase in neuroplasticity.

The study leader and associate professor, Dr Karin RosenKranz said, “The results show how important seemingly simple things like physical activity are in treating and preventing illnesses such as depression”.

Here are three ways for you to turn light exercise into a habit: 

  1. Take a morning walk while the day is still light. Being around nature and getting a dose of fresh air can do wonders for clearing your thoughts, and soaking up vitamin D is essential to beat SAD. We recommend buying a pair of best shoes for walking if you want to make this a regular habit and support your feet for any longer routes or any rough terrains.
  2. Don’t fancy leaving the house? You can always roll out of bed straight into a light session of yoga. Try these three 15-minute yoga routines with one of our best yoga mats to start your day right.
  3. Perhaps you like a higher intensity when you exercise, and want to work off some steam. A 10-minute HIIT workout can work up a sweat and it will be completed before you know it.
Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.