For the 280 million people in the world who have major depression (Source: WHO). this prescription is probably the one that they need more than any other. At least that’s the case with me.
The latest research shows that exercise and physical movement are just as effective. 
According to the Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Michael Craig Miller:
“For some people exercise works as well as antidepressants.” (Source: Harvard)
What Kind of Exercise Helps?
Physical activity – any movement-based activity that requires energy to work the muscles. For example, household activities, walking to the grocery store, playing in the garden, etc.
Research shows that any physical activity — not just formal exercise programs —help improve mood. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that jogging for 15 minutes a day or walking or gardening can all help prevent depression. [Source: NYTimes]
Exercise – Planned and structured body movements to improve or maintain physical fitness. For example, yoga, HIIT workout, functional training, weight training, etc.
According to a study of 65 women with depression, 34 women who took a yoga class twice a week (for two months) showed a significant decrease in depression symptoms than the 31 women who did not attend any classes.
Types of Physical Exercise
Here are the best types of exercises to improve health and reduce symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.
- Aerobic 
- Yoga 
- HIIT and LITT [4,5]
- Muscle Training 
- Cardio (cycling, dancing, brisk walking, swimming, etc.) 
Effect of Exercise on Health
Exercising influences a cascade of biological events that results in many health benefits.
Overwhelming evidence shows that exercise: 
- Builds cardiovascular strength to improve heart health
- Releases ‘feel good’ hormones to improve mood and sleep
- Lowers blood pressure
- Results in fat loss and weight reduction
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Boosts immunity and metabolism
- Strengthens and tones muscles
- Increases endurance, stamina, and balance
- Releases growth factors to boost cognitive function
Exercise for Depression and Anxiety
Health benefits of exercise for mental health include the following: 
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep
- Increased mental sharpness
- Mood enhancement
- Increased interest in sex
- Better endurance
- Increased energy and stamina
Regular exercise helps prevent and ease depression by:
- Feel-good endorphins
Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and natural cannabis-like brain chemicals known as endogenous cannabinoids . These hormones enhance your mood and sense of well-being. (Source: Health Europa)
Exercises de-stresses the mind and body by reducing the level of stress hormone (cortisol). 
There have been several meta-analyses to understand the link between exercise and depression and how exercise can improve mental health.
A meta-analysis of 80 studies reported that exercise reduces depression and improves mental health by reducing anxiety and negative mood patterns.
Another meta-analysis in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2016 found that regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercises can prove beneficial for treating depression.
- Clinical Trial
A study of 32 trials of 1858 participants found that exercise improves depressive symptoms in people diagnosed with depression compared to no treatment or control intervention. 
A study in Frontiers in Psychiatry revealed that exercise reduces depression symptoms by improving sleep quality and cognitive function. 75% of the participants showed a therapeutic response than the 25% who did not exercise.
Another study published in BMC Medicine in 2020 concluded that people with low aerobic and muscular fitness levels are twice as likely to experience depression.
A science-based book on why we should exercise to improve our health and lifestyle:
The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal (Research Psychologist at Stanford, Award winning Neuroscience Writer, Speaker and Consultant)
The data worldwide shows physically active people are healthier and have a lower risk of mental disorders like depression and loneliness. Beyond epidemiology, the neurochemistry of how movement reprograms the brain and affects mental health is evidence enough that exercise makes the mind and body thrive. (Source: Kerger)
Thus, anyone suffering from emotional distress, depression, or mental disorder should start an exercise regime.
- Exercise and Pharmacotherapy in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder by James A. Blumenthal. 2007. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702700/
- Long-term effects of aerobic exercise on psychological outcomes. DiLorenzo TM, Bargman EP, and Stucky-Ropp R.1998. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9973590/
- The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression by Ledetra Bridges and Manoj Sharma. 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871291/
- Depression and High Intensity Exercises: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/doctor-prescribed-daily-hiit-exercises-for-depression
- Can high-intensity interval training improve physical and mental health outcomes? A meta-review of 33 systematic reviews across the lifespan by Rebecca Martland, Valeria Mondelli, Fiona Gaughran, Brendon Stubbs. 2019. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31889469/
- Strengthen your mood with weight training: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/strengthen-your-mood-with-weight-training
- Exercise for depression: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/exercise-for-depression/
- Health Benefits of Exercise by Gregory N. Ruegsegger and Frank W. Booth. 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6027933/
- Exercise for Mental Health by Ashish Sharma, M.D.,Vishal Madaan, M.D. and Frederick D. Petty, M.D., Ph.D. 2006. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
- The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed by Lynette L. Craft, Ph.D. and Frank M. Perna, Ed.D., Ph.D. 2004. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
- Endocannabinoids and exercise by A Dietrich and W McDaniel. 2004. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1724924/
- Training responses of plasma beta-endorphin, adrenocorticotropin, and cortisol by Kraemer WJ, Fleck SJ, Callister R, Shealy M, Dudley GA, Maresh CM, Marchitelli L, Cruthirds C, Murray T, Falkel JE. 1989. Retrieved from: https://europepmc.org/article/med/2540392
- Exercise for depression by Jane Rimer, Kerry Dwan, Debbie A Lawlor, Carolyn A Greig, Marion McMurdo, Wendy Morley, Gillian E Mead. 2012. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22786489/
- Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression
- Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
- 7 Great Exercises to Ease Depression: https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression-pictures/great-exercises-to-fight-depression.aspx
- Exercise and Depression: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
- What Is the Link Between Exercise and Depression? https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-link-between-exercise-and-depression-5089055