Is Long Term Exercise For Depression and Anxiety Better Then Medication and Traditional Talk Therapy?

Is Long Term Exercise For Depression and Anxiety Better Than Medication and Traditional Talk Therapy?

Is Long Term Exercise For Depression and Anxiety Better Then Medication and Traditional Talk Therapy?  That’s the question.  And the answer that is coming back may be surprising to you.  What if it turned out that exercise for depression and anxiety is better than medication and traditional talk therapy?  Look, not everyone wants to get medicated.  Not everyone wants to “talk it out.”

A recent study in of 97 reviews that included 1039 trials and 128,119 participants published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, [SOURCE] concluded that…

Physical activity is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress across a wide range of adult populations, including the general population, people with diagnosed mental health disorders and people with chronic disease. Physical activity should be a mainstay approach in the management of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.”

Sooo…  YES!  Long term exercise IS better then medication and traditional talk therapy for depression and anxiety.

[DISCLAIMER:  This does NOT mean that I am advocating for not seeking a qualified therapist and/or based on your condition, am I suggesting that you don’t need medication.]

What I am advocating for is that you do not rely or depend solely on medication to solve your problem or think that just because you go talk to someone once a week or have that Michael Phelps app downloaded that you’re going to be OK.  Getting through this will require you to put in work.

When you realize that you’re struggling with things like anxiety and depression or find yourself with a real health challenge that stresses your mental health as well, exercise needs to be a part of your recovery.  Some of the conditions

The largest benefits were seen in people with depression, HIV and kidney disease, in pregnant and postpartum women, and in healthy individuals.

Additionally, the higher the intensity of the physical activity the greater the improvements in symptoms.  Case in point and from personal experience, exercise and hard exercise at that played MAJOR roles in helping me get off cigarettes and then a few years later alcohol.

When I was in the process of nicotine withdrawals, I would do 50 – 100 yard dashes to reclaim my lung capacity and also to remind myself that if I continued smoking, I will be this out of breath just trying to walk to the bathroom to pee.

In the early stages of my sobriety journey, Turkish Get Ups and Kettlebell Swings were, and I don’t use this term lightly, a lifesaver.  Alcohol withdrawals can trigger panic attacks as your brain’s GABA levels are all jacked up and out of whack and I literally thought I was dying.

I have staved off many an anxiety attack with a healthy dose of Kettlebell Swings, Snatches, Burpees or Sprints.

How does this work so well?  Well, let’s keep it simple for now.  Getting after it improves your mentals in a couple different ways.  During and right after a hard work out all sorts of good endorphins a firing off.  Remember when you’d run around as a kid and how good that felt?  That doesn’t go away when you get older.  And when you finish a workout, dopamine fires off too.

Both of these relieves stress and boosts your mood.  On the long term side of things, when you workout consistently your brain releases neurotransmitters and forms new neuropathways that improve and stabilize mood and while improving sleep and boosting immune function.

Additionally, a properly stressed body gets stronger through adaptation.  As just mentioned, regularly getting after it helps to improve your sleep quality, which plays a critical role in depression and anxiety.  And let’s not forget the fringe benefits, such as increased self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, all of which are beneficial for people struggling with depression.


Start.  That’s what.  You’ll never know your limits until you push them.  If you need to, go get checked out by your doctor.  A routine physical will never be a bad thing.  If your cleared to train, train.


You are under no obligation to go at it like a pro crossfitter after taking a little too much pre-workout.  High intensity for you can be as simple as a brisk walk.  Here’s a few ideas based on fitness levels…

Go outside and just walk for 15 minutes.  See how far you can go.  After the 15 minutes, get back to your starting point in less time.  Try that.

Find some stairs.  Walk up them.  Walk back down.  Repeat for 20 minutes.

Get a Kettlebell (I get mine from Onnit right now).  And read this book:  Enter The Kettlebell by Pavel Tsatsouline.

If you’re already in shape and are still struggling with anxiety and depression, I’d first suggest, and this is based on personal experience, take some time to look at and call yourself out with some personal tough love and honestly answer the following:

  1. Are you in great shape for real?
  2. How is your diet and nutrition?
  3. What kind of recovery work are you doing? (chiropractic, massage, sauna, etc)
  4. Do you have a breathing practice?

Start there.  Also, if you’re looking for fun and effective workouts and training routines, Rich Man’s Gym has quite a few so feel free to poke around the blog.

Have you struggled with anxiety and depression and has exercise helped you like me?  If so, I’d love to hear your story.  Leave a comment below about your journey and who knows, maybe I’ll have you on the podcast as a guest?