Exercise Vs Anxiety & Depression

 In Training

Getting regular exercise is essential for better physical and mental health; it is considered the cheapest way to prevent a wide range of medical conditions.

Up until recently, physical activity was not an issue considering most jobs in the past required a lot of moving around. Additionally, our grandparents did not witness the epidemic of obesity and excessive eating that we do today. 

Nowadays, we might spend an entire day sitting in front of our computer playing a game or watching a TV show. At work, things aren’t much better since most of the population has a desk job that doesn’t involve any physical activity outside of the occasional water cooler chit chat or lunch break walk. 

For these reasons, it is essential to stay active on a regular basis and set up a strict routine for workouts.

The benefits of moving your body do also surpass organicity to influence mental health. In other words, mental health is strongly related to how much physical activity you’re getting.

In this article, we will cover some general health benefits you can expect from training your body, as well as the relationship between exercise and psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

General benefits of physical training

Weight loss

Out of all the methods out there, physical activity is a mainstay when it comes to losing those extra pounds. This will not only decrease your risk of many diseases, but it will also help you look better, which increases your self-esteem and self-confidence, decreasing your risk of things like body dysphoria, depression and general anxiety.  

Improved metabolism

Basal metabolic rate or BMR is a parameter used by nutritionists to describe the number of calories your body needs in one day to maintain the functioning of your organs and neuronal processes.

BMR is influenced by a variety of factors, including age, gender, body type, lean muscle mass, and degree of physical activity.

Exercising frequently will increase BMR, which promotes metabolic efficiency, leading to more fat being burned.


Sleep disorders have been documented as a risk factor for several debilitating diseases such as blood hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease).

Physical activity is known to improve the hormonal balance inside our brains, which may enhance our sleep quality. In particular, aerobic training can induce the secretion of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for inducing and maintaining sleep

Major depression disorder

During our lifetime, we will come across many difficult events and decisions; as the stress, anxiety, and instability buildup, we might experience feelings of sadness. However, these feelings are short-lived and should go away after a little while. This is what would be considered a normal emotional response. 

In contrast, Major depressive disorder or MDD is a psychiatric malady characterized by prolonged feelings of severe sadness and isolated behavior.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one episode of major depressive disorder. This number comprises 7.7% of the general population (adults).

Additionally, the prevalence of MDD is more predilected towards women with a ratio of 2:1.

Finally, the age group that reported most cases of MDD is 18-25 years old.

When it comes to international statistics, the numbers are more frightening! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), major depressive disorder is responsible for the death of more than 800,000 people around the world every year.

Depression is described as “a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.”

In short, MDD is the most common psychiatric disorder worldwide with an unbelievably high prevalence and incidence.


Generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by the persistent and irrational fear of common life situations.

Individuals with GAD express constant worry about every aspect of their lives, including money, health, family, and work. They also experience what is known as anticipatory fear, which makes them anticipate disaster at all times.

A good analogy to describe how individuals with GAD feel is by imagining yourself in a pool underwater, everyone can see you underwater but no one knows you feel like you are drowning or can’t breathe. Everyone acts normal and cheerful. Everyone sees you but  you can’t communicate to them that you are drowning. The fear and panic build and build but you never drown, you just keep waiting for it to happen. 

In a  nutshell this is how people with GAD feel; only in their cases, the fear is almost constantly present and the feeling doesn’t go away.

The prevalence of GAD compared to other psychiatric conditions is quite high; in fact, estimates state that the lifetime prevalence is 5% and the 1-year prevalence is 3% in the US.

About two-thirds of these individuals are women, especially during pregnancy.

Moreover, the numbers decrease in people over the age of 65.


How physical health affects mental health

Exercise and depression

Exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild symptoms of depression, and of course, without the side effects, you would expect from the drugs.

In a 2018 study, researchers analyzed the effects of physical exercise on depression and found that it can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression, stating that “First, exercise offers numerous physical benefits, which can counteract several mechanisms postulated to increase mortality risk in depression. Second, if prescribed and delivered correctly, exercise can be as effective as other first-line treatments, while being mostly free of adverse side-effects.”

Adding that “this ancient, yet new therapeutic modality should be implemented in the treatment plan of patients with MDD.”

Scientists advise that exercise oriented to treat depression should be delivered by professionals with specific experience in mental health care.

However, group exercise leaders, personal trainers, clinical exercise physiologists, wellness specialists, and physical therapists can all be part of this therapy.

Moreover, a classic study conducted in 2004 states that the focus on exercise in the treatment of depression should be directed at the frequency rather than the duration of sessions.

Exercise and anxiety

Similar to depression, anxiety seems to be strongly influenced by the amount of exercise you get, which was supported by several studies, including a study published in 2013 by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Researchers concluded that “There is strong evidence from animal studies that exercise and regular activity positively impacts the pathophysiological processes of anxiety. Numerous studies and meta-analyses show that exercise is also associated with reduced anxiety in clinical settings.”

However, the exact mechanisms that explain the anxiolytic effects of exercise were not clearly identified.

Unlike depression, the intensity of the exercise seems to correlate with the anxiolytic effect. In a 2018 study, scientists found that high-intensity exercise regimens were found to be more effective than low-intensity regimens.

This has led scientists to advocate for the use of exercise schemes in general practice to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. This really just mean the more intense the training, the more effective it is at combating the effects of anxiety. 



Anxiety and depression are two of the leading causes of disability in the entire world. The prevalence has been on the rise in the last few decades and the numbers are just terrifying!

For this reason, researchers are always on the look for new potential treatment modalities to decrease the symptoms of these ailments, especially if the new treatments have lower side effects compared to conventional pharmacological drugs (e.g. antidepressants).

As for exercise, there are no negative side effects, making it an easy solution to add to your daily routine.  Places like District Athletic Club in New Haven, where multiple communities and modalities of fitness exist, have people who understand the struggles of the everyday grind. Moreover we have professionals to help you include fitness into your life and an incredible community to back it up. Life can be tough, and adding exercise to it may seem difficult. But, when you find yourself in a supportive community it can benefit your mental health in ways the exercise alone could not. Come by and meet our people, after all we’re only as strong as the community to which we belong. 


District Athletic Club offers a free week pass to try everything and get to know the community. It has no obligation and is the best way to start something new.  Immerse yourself in it.  

Check out the class schedule here. 

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