Is Running A Good Remedy For Depression?

Email to Your Friends

Does Running Help Depression

Running helps release happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine, lower cortisol levels, and raise the body temp. This lifts your mood, eases muscle tension, improves your sleep, and allays depressive symptoms. A 20-min run can release enough endorphins to give you a high. Running rids your body of kynurenine—a chemical linked to most mental disorders—by changing it into a disposable form.

It is common for us to have the blues at times, but what if we feel empty and sad for weeks together? And what if this is affecting our ability to go about doing our daily chores at work and home? Depression is quite a crippling mental disorder, which goes beyond just being moody or sad. A common yet serious condition, it can take a toll on not just your mind but also your body.

A Look At Depression Worldwide

The statistics associated with depression are indeed, alarming. Around the world, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from it. According to data released by the World Health Organization, it was found that almost 1 million people commit suicide every year because of depression; and for every person who does so, there are 20 more who make an attempt.1

In 2014, an estimated 15.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States reported having at least one major depressive episode, which means depressive symptoms persisted for two weeks or longer. This number represented 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults.2

Are You Depressed?

Feeling sad on and off or being moody does not mean you are depressed. Experts have come up with a group of symptoms that can help you diagnose whether you are depressed. Together known as SIGECAPS, these are sleep (disturbance), interest (diminished), guilt (feeling worthless), energy (loss), concentration difficulty, appetite (abnormality or weight change), psychomotor symptoms, and suicide (attempts or thoughts). If four or more of these are experienced in the extreme for a period of two weeks or more, it indicates major depression.

What Causes Depression?

Depression is usually caused because of a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors that disrupt the brain’s chemical balance. Physical health and depression are interrelated and counter-effective, which means certain illnesses like cardiovascular disease can cause depression and vice versa. Here are the main recognized causes of depression:


Those with a family history of depression are more likely to experience it, say studies. The presence of certain genetic factors make them prone to this condition while facing a challenging event or incident in their lives.3


Chronic stress was found to cause significant brain disturbances that can lead to anxiety- or aggression-driven depressive behavior.4

Medical conditions

Life-threatening or long-standing medical conditions, like Parkinson’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, and hypertension, can also lead to depression.

Depression And Exercise

We have all heard of “feel-good” hormones that are generated by the body, especially after indulging in a physical activity. Dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are a few such feel-good chemicals that trigger the feeling of happiness and spread it through the entire body.5

To counter the effects of depression, most traditional treatment methods use such mood-enhancing chemicals to increase the level of tryptophan—the building block of serotonin—in the body.6 Studies have found that tryptophan improves mood, increases agreeableness, and decreases quarrelsome behavior.7

Exercise, too, has been found to have similar effects on the body.8 It is widely known that physical exercise increases body temperature and balances the negative effects of stress hormones, which leads to reduced muscle tension and a feeling of relaxation. These are pretty much the same outcomes that an antidepressant is expected to bring about.

This was proven by a study conducted at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, in which 80 people were randomly placed into 5 groups. Of these, 2 groups did moderately intense aerobic exercises; another two groups did low-intensity aerobic exercises; and the fifth group did stretching and flexibility exercises.

Those who did moderately intense aerobics experienced a decline in depressive symptoms by an average of 47 percent after 12 weeks; those in the low-intensity group reported a 30 percent decline in symptoms; and those in the last group averaged a 29 percent decline.9

Researchers thus suggested that exercise could be an effective way to battle depression, especially considering the negative stigma attached to mental disorders in the society. Compared with antidepressants, exercise has no serious side effects, and it can be adopted into anyone’s lifestyle without them having to face the shame of starting a treatment.

Running To Relieve Depression

Many studies point toward the positive effects that running has on the depressed. A group of Swedish researchers induced depression-like behavior in mice by subjecting them to mild stress for five weeks. They found that such stress caused the increased production of a molecule called kynurenine in the liver, which then traveled to the brain through the bloodstream.10

Previous studies have found the ill effects of the molecule on the brain. In fact, patients with a variety of mental illness are found to have high levels of kynurenine. But when the same experiments were done on mice that were bred to be physically fit, researches found that less kynurenine reached the brain. They concluded that exercise makes muscles produce more of a certain protein (PGC-1alpha1), which transforms kynurenine into kynurenic acid. The difference between these similar-sounding molecules is that the latter cannot pass through the bloodstream.

Dr Jorge Ruas, who headed the study, confirmed these findings saying that “well-trained muscles do not produce a substance that helps the brain; instead, they produce a substance that purges the body of something that would otherwise harm the brain.” This was one of the rare studies that identified a direct scientific cause-and-effect relationship between physical activity and depression.

In another study, women who met the research diagnostic criteria for major or minor depression were assigned an eight-week running (aerobic) program. Results indicated that the running program significantly reduced depression.11

There are various ways in which running can help ease depression, some of which are:

Running Elevates Mood And Improves Sleep

Regular running alleviates negative mood as it triggers feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. Exercises such as running can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression, and anxiety. Good sleep in turn can result in a marked decrease in depressive symptoms. A study published in the journal Psychomatic Medicine found, after four months of controlled trials on patients with major depressive disorder, that exercise was generally comparable with antidepressants in such patients.12

Running Improves Self-Image

Running can act as a diversion from negative thoughts for those suffering from depression and the resultant weight loss from it can improve self-esteem and self-image.

Other Expert Views

Running Leads To The “Runner’s High”

Running for longer than 20 minutes helps release endorphins, thus, giving you a euphoric feeling that scientists call “runner’s high” and lifts your mood.1314

There are many studies done both on animals and on humans that prove that running alleviates anxiety and provides protection against depressive behaviors.15 16

Running may not be a magical pill to cure you from depression. But it will help lift your mood and will make you feel relaxed, which, in itself, would be a pleasant change for those suffering from depression. So put on those running shoes, get going, and beat the blues.

References   [ + ]

1.Depression, A Hidden Burden. World Health Organization.
2.Major depression among adults. National Institute of Mental Health.
3. Lucae, S., M. A. Kohli, M. V. Schmidt, P. G. Sämann, A. Demirkan, K. Hek, D. Salyakina et al. “The neuronal transporter gene SLC6A15 confers risk to major depression.” Pharmacopsychiatry 42, no. 05 (2009): A97.
4. Van Praag, H. M. “Can stress cause depression?.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 28, no. 5 (2004): 891-907.
5.Meeusen, Romain, and Kenny De Meirleir. “Exercise and brain neurotransmission.” Sports Medicine 20, no. 3 (1995): 160-188.
6.Wrobel, Sylvia. “Science, serotonin, and sadness: the biology of antidepressants A series for the public.” The FASEB Journal 21, no. 13 (2007): 3404-3417.
7.aan het Rot, Marije, Debbie S. Moskowitz, Gilbert Pinard, and Simon N. Young. “Social behaviour and mood in everyday life: the effects of tryptophan in quarrelsome individuals.” Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN 31, no. 4 (2006): 253.
8.Soares, J., M. G. Naffah-Mazzacoratti, and E. A. Cavalheiro. “Increased serotonin levels in physically trained men.” Brazilian journal of medical and biological research= Revista brasileira de pesquisas medicas e biologicas/Sociedade Brasileira de Biofisica…[et al.] 27, no. 7 (1994): 1635-1638.
9.Dunn, Andrea L., Madhukar H. Trivedi, James B. Kampert, Camillia G. Clark, and Heather O. Chambliss. “Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose response.” American journal of preventive medicine 28, no. 1 (2005): 1-8.
10.Agudelo, Leandro Z., Teresa Femenía, Funda Orhan, Margareta Porsmyr-Palmertz, Michel Goiny, Vicente Martinez-Redondo, Jorge C. Correia et al. “Skeletal muscle PGC-1α1 modulates kynurenine metabolism and mediates resilience to stress-induced depression.” Cell 159, no. 1 (2014): 33-45.
11. Byrne, A., and D. G. Byrne. “The effect of exercise on depression, anxiety and other mood states: a review.” Journal of psychosomatic research 37, no. 6 (1993): 565-574.
12.Blumenthal, James A., Michael A. Babyak, P. Murali Doraiswamy, Lana Watkins, Benson M. Hoffman, Krista A. Barbour, Steve Herman et al. “Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder.” Psychosomatic medicine 69, no. 7 (2007): 587.
13.Boecker, Henning, Till Sprenger, Mary E. Spilker, Gjermund Henriksen, Marcus Koppenhoefer, Klaus J. Wagner, Michael Valet, Achim Berthele, and Thomas R. Tolle. “The runner’s high: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain.” Cerebral Cortex18, no. 11 (2008): 2523-2531.
14.Koplan, Jeffery P., Kenneth E. Powell, R. Keith Sikes, Renee W. Shirley, and C. C. Campbell. “An epidemiologic study of the benefits and risks of running.” Jama 248, no. 23 (1982): 3118-3121.
15. Wilson, Vietta E., Bonnie G. Berger, and Evelyn I. Bird. “Effects of running and of an exercise class on anxiety.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 53, no. 2 (1981): 472-474.
16.Clark, Peter J., Parsa R. Ghasem, Agnieszka Mika, Heidi E. Day, Jonathan J. Herrera, Benjamin N. Greenwood, and Monika Fleshner. “Wheel running alters patterns of uncontrollable stress-induced cfos mRNA expression in rat dorsal striatum direct and indirect pathways: A possible role for plasticity in adenosine receptors.” Behavioural brain research 272 (2014): 252-263.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Email to Your Friends