How exercise can be as effective as antidepressants

Woman with positive mental wellbeing

Beth Murphy Head of Information at mental health charity Mind answers some common questions about exercise and mental health:

Woman running in a park

How can exercise help to relieve mental health conditions?

Exercise is proven to boost mood and strengthen mental wellbeing. In fact research shows outdoor exercise, or ecotherpy as it's called, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

The colours, sounds and smells of the great outdoors stimulate our senses in a way that the gym or urban environments don't. Equally getting physically fit and achieving personal goals boost our confidence and self-esteem and help combat feelings of hopelessness, which can often come over us when we're feeling low.

Playing sport with others can have even greater impact as it provides an opportunity to strengthen social networks, talk through problems with others or simply laugh and enjoy a break from family and work.

To get the most from ecotherapy it's important to find a sport you love and can stick at - try different things be it walking,running,tennis,swimming,rugby, or taekwondo!

Doctor writing a prescription

Are there any particular conditions that especially benefit from exercise?

Studies have shown that exercise can help with depression, but there is research being conducted on how exercise can help people manage schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.

We know that having a physical health illness can be a cause of mental health problems so staying active, and therefore physically fit, can help maintain mental health too. Doctors are starting to prescribe exercise on prescription, and are increasingly doing so for mental health problems.


How active do you recommend people are to feel the benefits?

People have different levels of fitness and ability and availability but NHS guidelinesexternal-link for 19-65 year olds suggest 150 minutes of activity - be that walking, team sports, swimming - per week.

There is benefit in doing exercise in a structured way to help with mental health problems - making sure that your activity levels are consistent, and that you do a similar amount of exercise each week. It can also help to have something to look forward to, particularly if the type of exercise is something social.

Take a look at Mind's filmexternal-link on exercise for some tips on getting active, and look through our A-Z of guides to help you find an activity that fits your lifestyle.