Exercise and Depression

There is growing evidence that exercise and depression are linked and that regular aerobic exercise has a beneficial effect on mood control from those who suffer from depression in general. Therefore it isn’t surprising that research shows that exercise is helpful for people with SAD as well.

But aside from this exercise has a number of benefits, including:

  • It is likely to make you live longer
  • It may reduce your risk of breast cancer
  • It helps your body heal faster after injury
  • It raises your good cholesterol
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Reduces your chances of adult onset diabetes
  • Decreases your risk of a stroke
  • May improve your memory
  • Your sexual function may improve
  • Reduces the risk for various cancers
  • Improves your balance
  • Makes your bones stronger
  • It saves you money – your medical costs are likely to decline!

Combining exercise and light therapy

Combining light therapy and exercise should be more potent than doing either in isolation. Typically people who try and keep Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay through exercise alone find it difficult to have the will power to maintain an exercise regime throughout the winter.

So why not walk briskly or go for a jog outdoors on a bright winter day, or if it is dull outside you might be able to workout in front of your light box. Either way light therapy will keep you motivated to exercise and the exercise will be good for mood and weight control.

Person walking in the autumn sun

Finding an exercise regime

Quite simply, find something you enjoy or can at least tolerate. Any exercise is better than no exercise and if you enjoy it you are more likely to stick with it.

Also finding an exercise buddy can make a difference – you can motivate each other. I try to go out for runs regularly in the winter and find it much easier if I have someone to go with. Likewise I am sure we have all, at one time or another, seen walking groups out together for their daily walk.

Quite often in the winter I do find it hard to motivate myself to go out for a run, so I try and focus on the end result – I know how good it will feel when I get in from a brisk run and keep that thought in my head and force myself to do it.

Take baby steps

Start your exercise regime in small steps. Don’t try running three miles the first time out. Start slowly and gradually increase your exercise time.

How does exercise help?

When you exercise the brain generates a substance called endorphins. Endorphins create a sense of well-being, pleasure and reduced feelings of pain and distress and work in the same way as heroin and morphine.

Start by walking the stairs instead of getting the elevator, walk around whilst you are on the phone, wander around the mall or take a walk at lunchtime.

Exercise can increase energy, decrease cravings and improve mood and just remember any amount of exercise is better than nothing.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise can be especially beneficial, this is an activity that gets your heart beating and your blood circulating faster. Benefits include:

  • Strengthening of the heart
  • Toning muscles
  • Strengthening and improving respiration
  • Increased energy
  • Better oxygenation

There are lots of aerobic exercises. You can ride a bike, jog, play tennis, take an aerobic exercise class at a gym, play basketball, run, kick box, hike, swim or walk briskly.

At winter specifically you can ice skate, cross country ski, snow shoe and play ice hockey.

People ice skating

Anaerobic exercise

Strength training is what is known as anaerobic exercise. The advantages include building muscle and burning calories.

You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money either – you can build muscle through sit-ups, push ups, lunges or squats.


Yoga has been around for thousands of years and can be helpful to just about anyone. It joins the body and mind and to start with you don’t need to be particularly limber or flexible.

The most common forms of yoga include:

Hatha yoga: This is gentle and slow and the perfect choice for a beginner. You practice a variety of poses which improve balance and breathing and stretch your muscles. It is very relaxing.

Ashtanga yoga: This is known as power yoga and it helps build endurance. You basically repeat certain poses quickly, giving you a challenging and sweaty workout!

Bikram yoga: This is also called hot yoga and unsurprisingly is practiced in a room heated to about 100 degrees. The heat and sweating are supposed to cleanse your body and loosen your muscles. Just note – this isn’t the best if you have high blood pressure or cardiac problems.

Vinyasa yoga: This type refers to a class that completes a series of poses called Sun Salutations. This type of yoga can be a little more aerobic than Hatha yoga but is less vigorous than Ashtanga.

Kundalina yoga: This form involves more emphasis on breathing and energy. You perform rapid movement through a series of poses integrated with breathing and sometimes chanting.

Yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and can be practiced in order to prevent or manage depression – including Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Person doing yoga

 In short

No matter how hard you find it, try and motivate yourself to do some exercise. Even if you start with a very short run or even a brisk walk you will feel better for it afterwards. Try and keep in mind how you will feel when you are done and then force yourself out to do it.SaveSave