How Exercise Can Help Reduce Depression and Anxiety

Almost half of the Australian population will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. Depression and anxiety are classified as two separate disorders but can be experienced together. Exercise not only has a range of physical benefits but psychological benefits too, research shows that by participating in exercise it can be beneficial if you are experiencing depression or anxiety. Exercise may be the last thing on your mind if you are feeling depressed or anxious, but this is the most important time to try exercise. 

Within the body physiological mechanisms can alter a person’s mood/mental health. Training can elicit endorphins, these are the feel-good hormones that can be described as a feeling of euphoria, analgesia, even relaxation after exercise. When an individual has anxiety or depression neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are imbalanced. Utilising exercise helps to increase the availability of these neurotransmitters, improving overall mood. Exercise is thought to positively influence the serotonergic and adrenergic level in the brain. Working similar to anti-depressant medications. 

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) dysfunction can be characterized by cortisol production, hypersecretion and compromised sensitivity to glucocorticoids. By participating in the exercise, it can reduce the HPA response to stress. As exercise increases of blood flow and oxygen to the brain this can kickstart neurogenesis, which helps in brain functioning and performance. 

Benefits of exercise to help reduce depression and anxiety

  • Boosts mood
  • Increase in energy and stamina levels
  • Quality of sleep improves through our circadian rhythms 
  • Increase concentration/mental alertness
  • Stress relief
  • Decreased tiredness
  • Boosts self-esteem (self-efficacy) 

Things to remember

  • Start slow and gradual. Exercise doesn’t have to be at high intensities to still have benefits.
  • Make exercise enjoyable. You don’t have to limit yourself to a gym setting. Outdoor activities such as surfing, hiking, cycling, gardening even just walking are great options to boost your mood.
  • Join a group setting for the added social aspect and support.


Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48-56.

Bartholomew, J. B., Morrison, D., & Ciccolo, J. T. (2005). Effects of acute exercise on mood and well-being in patients with major depressive disorder. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 37(12), 2032.

Reul, J. M., & Droste, S. K. (2005). The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis as a dynamically organized system: lessons from exercising mice. In Techniques in the Behavioral and Neural Sciences (Vol. 15, pp. 95-112). Elsevier.

Sun, L., Sun, Q., & Qi, J. (2017). Adult hippocampal neurogenesis: an important target associated with antidepressant effects of exercise. Reviews in the Neurosciences, 28(7), 693-703.


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