Get Happy! | Exercise, Endorphins, and Depression

Moderate exercise not only treats, but can also prevent depression Moderate exercise not only treats, but can also prevent depression

It was one of the most stressful times of the author's life, yet he had never felt better.

Pondering & Philosophizing

It's a bit ironic.

I was running on some nearby country roads recently and feeling great. Spring was finally chasing winter away, the air was fresh, and I was getting back into shape after a short break in regular exercise. Some of my best pondering and philosophizing are done while running, and on this particular day I was thinking about a summer a few years ago when I felt better than I ever had. 

During that summer I rode my bike about 100 miles each week. I also ran, stretched frequently, did some weight lifting, and ate a healthful diet. I slept incredibly well, was mentally focused, and productive. I truly had never felt better.

The irony lies in the fact that this should have been one of the more stressful, anxiety-filled times of my life. It was during this time that I lost my job, my house wouldn't sell, my house was damaged by a tornado, and my car finally breathed its last. This would be a stressful time for anyone. Some level of anxiety and depression would be expected. Yet, I had never felt better.

While nodding to the curious cows on my run, I came to the conclusion that exercise = bliss. And a huge amount of research conducted over decades agrees with me.

Exercise - A Better (and More Fun) Antidepressant

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine split 156 men and women with depression into three groups. Group 1 took part in aerobic exercise only, Group 2 took the antidepressant drug Zoloft only, and Group 3 did both. After 16 weeks, 60%-70% of the people in all three groups could no longer be classed as having major depression.

A follow-up study found that the positive effects of exercise lasted longer than those of antidepressants, and the exercising subjects were less likely to relapse into depression.

Another study in 2005 found that walking briskly for 35 minutes a day (5X per week) or 60 minutes a day (3X per week) had a significant influence on mild to moderate depression. One review of the relationship between exercise and depression even concluded that regardless of individual predispositions, moderate exercise not only treats, but can also prevent depression.


Experts have long known that exercise enhances the action of endorphins, a chemical in the body that gives the feeling of well-being. Endorphins are produced during exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food consumption, love, and sexual activity. Endorphins also improve immunity and reduce the perception of pain. Some experts also believe that exercise stimulates norepinephrine, which may directly improve mood.


Science has confirmed that the benefits of regular exercise go far beyond just the physical and into the emotional and mental.

And exercise doesn't have to be a burden! Finding activities that you love, that make you come alive, is an incredible motivator! So, after I click "Save" and shut down this computer, I'm going out for a run, and then play frisbee with my kids. Who's with me?

Brian DeLay

Brian DeLay is an airline pilot living in the Midwest with his wife and three children. As an avid runner and cyclist he has completed numerous half-marathons, marathons, and cycling "century" rides, and serves as the race director for the Run for the Ridge 5K. His favorite activities are those he shares with his family. Visit Brian on Google+

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