Exercise for depression

Being depressed can leave you feeling low in energy, which might put you off being more active.

Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression, and it’s especially useful for people with mild to moderate depression.

“Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and you do enough of it,” says Dr Alan Cohen, a GP with a special interest in mental health. “Exercise should be something you enjoy; otherwise, it will be hard to find the motivation to do it regularly.”

How often do you need to exercise?

To stay healthy, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week.

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If you haven’t exercised for a while, gradually introduce physical activity into your daily routine.

Any exercise is better than none. Even a 15-minute walk can clear your mind and relax.

How to get started with exercise

Find an activity you can do regularly. You can take part in a team sport, attend classes at a leisure centre, or just be more active in your daily routine by walking or cycling instead of travelling by car or public transport.

For more ideas on different types of exercise and the benefits of being more active, see our fitness section.

If being outdoors appeals to you, Green Gym projects, run with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), provide exercise for people who don’t like the idea of the gym or indoor exercise classes. To find out more, visit the TCV website.

If you like walking, visit the Ramblers website to find a walking group near you. Walking for Health groups can support people who have health problems, including mental health conditions.

Exercise on prescription

If you haven’t exercised for a long time or are concerned about the effects of exercise on your body or health, ask your GP about exercise on prescription. Lots of GP surgeries across the country prescribe exercise as a treatment for a range of conditions, including depression.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that people with mild to moderate depression take part in about 3 sessions a week, lasting about 45 minutes to one hour, over 10 to 14 weeks.

Your GP can help you decide what type of activity will suit you. 

Depending on your circumstances and what’s available locally, exercise programmes may be offered free or at a reduced cost.

Other help for depression

Many treatments are available for depression, including talking therapies, antidepressants and self-help of various kinds.

Read more about treatment for depression.

If you’ve been feeling down for more than 2 weeks, see your GP to discuss your symptoms. They can tell you about the choice of treatment available for depression and help you decide what’s best for you.

Last updated:
04 January 2023

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