How Exercise Can Help Fight Anxiety and Depression


How Exercise Can Help Fight Anxiety and Depression


This guest post was written by Dr. Brent Wells, a chiropractor in South Anchorage and founder of Better Health Chiropractic.  Full bio included at end of article.  Enjoy!


School-age children and adults of all ages deal with the daily struggles of anxiety and depression. As they go through their days, many rely on medications and psychotherapy with licensed psychologists. Others prefer to use alternative therapies to manage their mental health. 

Common alternative and complementary therapies

There are several alternative therapies that people turn to as they work to manage their anxiety and depression. One alternative therapy involves eating a specific, healthy diet. Others turn to meditation and other stress-reducing relaxation techniques. Acupuncture is a growing alternative therapy. One of the most common therapies involves exercise. 

The proof is in the studies

Exercise as an alternative and complementary therapy has been studied for decades. In these studies, different forms of exercise on different types of patients with anxiety and depression found some relief from the symptoms. For example, one study recently published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Healthinvolving older adults who used an exercise DVD at home saw some relief from their depression and anxiety. 

People with depression or symptoms of depression often turn to yoga for relief. Because this is so common, researchers have looked for the science behind the anecdotes from those who have found relief. In a study published in The Massachusetts General Hospital Guideto Depression, people with depression and anxiety were given a 12-week treatment plan that included twice weekly yoga. These patients did not see success with medication. But, the researchers did find that long-term yoga helped relieve symptoms to depression in the same way or better than other types of exercise. 

When it comes to other types of exercise, studies have found that they help depression more so than anxiety. One such study was published in CNS & Neurological Disorders. Researchers looked at anxiety and depression scores for over 40,000 people. Those with anxiety found some relief with exercise, but those with depression found more. 

The difference between exercise and physical activity

Understanding what exercise is can be helpful. Exercise is different from physical activity. People can have physical activity at their jobs, but it is different from exercising. Exercise is meant to enhance physical fitness, where physical activity is movement done throughout the normal day. 

Exercise can include some basic physical activities like walking or cleaning the house. More often, exercise is generally planned with the purpose of wellness. In today’s world, there are a plethora of options for people of all physical abilities. People can join various organizations and businesses that organize classes and offer fitness training. They can also partake in online fitness courses in the comfort of their homes. They can also join recreational leagues to play on age- or ability-rated team sports. And, there’s always the option of simply going for a walk or a hike. 

Regular exercise is key to success

No matter what exercise people choose, it is important to find time to regularly stay involved. The study published in the The Massachusetts General Hospital Guide recommended participating in at least two yoga classes per week. The study did not find any difference between yoga practiced in a heated room or in an unheated room. 

Consult with your mental health professional

When selecting an exercise routine, the best thing to do is consult with your physician or your therapist. Exercise is generally considered a complementary therapy, so mental-health professionals can help patients find a suitable option that works with your treatment plan. Since studies have repeatedly found that most exercises help with some relief of depression and anxiety symptoms, the best exercise for you is one you enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy it, you might not continue it on a regular basis. 

Know yourself and your tendencies 

It can be helpful to think realistically about what could keep you from exercising. Some people do well exercising with a friend or partner. Others prefer working out alone. It is also wise to stay within your budget, which can make exercising with free online courses or simply going for a walk reasonable choices. Gym memberships can be expensive and many gyms require contracts that must be honored for a full year. 

It is also helpful to recognize what might hold you back and how to manage those setbacks. For example, if you miss a day, how will you feel? Will you get back to it the next day? Missing one day or even an entire week shouldn’t derail an entire exercise plan. Bikram Choudhury, the creator of the Bikram yoga technique is famously known for saying “You are never too old or too broken. It is never too late to begin, or to start all over again.” 

The connection between exercise and relief from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety has been proven time and time again. As always, before beginning any exercise program, it is best to discuss your plans with your healthcare provider. 

About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells

Serving Juneau, Wasilla, Anchorage, and the surrounding communities, Dr. Brent Wells offers patient-centered, personalized, and innovative chiropractic care. A California native, Dr. Wells earned a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Nevada. He then attended Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon. In 1998, he and his wife Coni moved to Alaska and opened Better Health Chiropractic in Anchorage. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.

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