Fantastic Q&A on Exercise and Depression

Our wonderful advisory board member, Kirsten Straughan, was kind enough to let iFred present to the students in UIC’s Human Nutrition program, preparing students to become registered dieticians.  Students interested in volunteering and learning more about depression took up the topics of exercise, nutrition, and the brain, and we are so thankful that Ann Haibeck researched and compiled these common questions and answers about depression and exercise.  THANK YOU and keep up the great work! 

General clinical depression 

Why should I consider exercise as a way to alleviate depressive symptoms? How does exercise help? 

Exercise provides a distraction or “time out” from the stresses of daily living. Most people also feel a sense of accomplishment, self-esteem, and increased self-efficacy as a result of exercise. 


Biochemical reasons: Endorphins and increased availability of brain neurotransmitters that are ordinarily reduced in depression cause immediate psychological benefits. 

Direct psychological reasons: distraction/”time out” from daily living; sense of accomplishment, increased self-esteem, and increased self-efficacy. 

Can exercise reduce my risk of experiencing depressive symptoms in the future? 

Yes, because exercise will keep your body healthy, leading to a healthier mind. People who exercise are less likely to experience diseases such as cardiovascular disease. People who experience such diseases often develop depression secondarily, so by preventing the primary disease, you prevent the potentially resultant depression. If you currently have a physical disease, exercise could help improve that condition as well as your depression. 

Can I exercise instead of taking medication? How does the effect of exercise compare to the effect of medication in treating depression? 

A number of studies have shown that the results of treatment by exercise or medication are often very similar. Even with antidepressant medication, some symptoms of depression still remain despite antidepressant treatment, such as fatigue and cognitive function. Exercise can improve these symptoms.  However, we always advocate talking to your doctor about if medication is right for you. 

How much exercise do I need to do in order to notice an effect? 

Any amount, even the smallest amount of exercise, such as walking for a few minutes. To maximize the effect, set attainable goals as you increase your exercise duration or intensity under your physician’s supervision. 

Nutrition and depression in the life cycle
Can exercise in children and adolescents reduce the risk of experiencing depression later in life? 

Yes, please see reasons above about preventing chronic disease and psychological benefits such as self-efficacy. 

Are there nutritionally related predictors of postpartum depression? 

The most active way to decrease your risk for postpartum depression is to manage your weight during pregnancy. Childbearing has been associated with obesity, which is associated with depression. Work with your physician or a dietitian to ensure that you gain an appropriate, healthy amount of weight during pregnancy. 

Can the elderly still benefit from the positive effects of exercise on depression? 

Yes. It’s never too late to use exercise as a way to alleviate depressive symptoms or prevent their onset. Again, it also doesn’t matter how much exercise is done or how intense, as long as they do something physically active that they enjoy. 

About Ann Haibeck 

Ann will soon complete her studies and clinical dietetic practice hours at the University of Illinois as Chicago with a major in Human Nutrition and a minor in Kinesiology. She will then pursue graduate studies focusing on exercise physiology and sport psychology. 


Daley, A. Exercise and Depression: A Review of Reviews. J Clin Psychol Med Settings.                     (2008). 15: 140-157. 

McDowell, MS, Hetrik S, Bir J, Muller N. Psychological and/or educational interventions          for the prevention of depression in children and adolescents (Review).  The   Cochrane Lirbary. (2008). Issue 4. 

Smith, TW and MacKenzie, J. Personality and Risk of Physical Illness. Annual Rev Clin           Psychol.(2006). 2:435-67. 

Spread Hope by Sharing this!

Speak Your Mind