Sharing – What Exercise Can — and Can’t — Do for Your Mental Health

I feel like this is something that needs to be shouted for everyone in the back to hear. Whether you’re talking about exercise, certain eating habits, medication or whatever else we read about online as being the “cure” for depression.

“Felipe Schuch, an associate professor of sports techniques and methods at Universidade Federal de Santa Maria in Brazil, acknowledges that exercise is not a miracle cure. “Not everyone will benefit from exercise in the same way that not everyone will benefit from psychotherapy or antidepressant medications,” he says. “Someone can be depressed even being active. There are many ways and many risk factors that will make someone become depressed; exercise is just one factor that might protect or decrease the risk.”

Schuch estimates that 40% to 50% of people get better with exercise, about the same portion that responds to antidepressants. In one study comparing different treatment options for depression, 45% of people who took part in group exercise classes and 40% of those who worked out at home saw significant benefits in their symptoms compared with 47% of people on medication and 31% who received a placebo.”

Two things that I want to point out from this tidbit.

1. The outcome is described as “get better”, not cured. That is a pretty broad definition, which to me means that 40-50% saw some relief of their depression symptoms when they started exercising regularly.

That’s good, and worth trying since getting a little exercise is a fairly easy enough thing to do, that we can all afford.


2. The numbers provided by Dr. Schuch also show that 50-60% of people didn’t get better. In the study quoted, 55% of people who take exercise classes, and 60% of those who worked out at home, didn’t get better.

So yes, if you’ve not been getting much exercise and want to try and do that to alleviate some of your depression, go for it. But understand it’s a pretty 50-50 proposition as to whether it will help you or not.

So, stop telling people that all they need to do is get more exercise. For some, that may be true, but not everyone, just like not everyone responds to medication, or eating healthy, or any other treatment options that you may have heard about, or even had some experience with yourself.

We’re all individuals, with our own complications for mental health issues. Keep trying until you find what works for you.

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