Treating Depression with Exercise

Research studies demonstrate that participating in exercise causes the following physiological changes:

  • Neurogenesis
  • Increased levels of BDNF and neurotransmitters (norepinephrine and serotonin)
  • Increases in cerebral blood flow
  • Increases levels of plasma Beta endorphin
  • Lowers stress indicators including resting blood pressure and heart rate

Studies have also shown that, patients with depression who participate in exercise can achieve the following outcomes:

  • Decreased levels of depression
  • Decreased incidence of relapses
  • Increased ability to deal with stress and anxiety
  • Improved mood
  • Improved memory
  • More energy
  • Improved self esteem & self efficacy
  • Better sleep
  • Positive social experiences

Exercise can be used to treat depression regardless of the patient age, sex or level of depression.

What should be considered when referring a patient to an exercise treatment program?
There are three key components to a successful exercise treatment program.

  1. Assessments The implementation of an exercise program needs to be graded and based upon professional assessment of the patients current fitness levels. These assessments are useful for several reasons
    • To provide the patient, Exercise Physiologist and General Practitioner with objective baseline data on possible contraindications, current fitness levels and barriers to participation
    • To assist the patient and Exercise Physiologist with goal setting
    • To assist the Exercise Physiologist to develop a customised exercise program
    • To measure the outcomes from an exercise treatment program
  2. Customised Exercises. The effects of exercise on depression have been proven to be dose responsive. Exercise programs that are moderate to high intensity with resistance and/or aerobic training have been shown to be the most effective in treating depression. The exact components of an effective exercise treatment program need to be designed based upon the needs of your patients.
  3. Compliance Strategies. Exercise programs may take from 9 to 16 weeks to achieve the best outcomes for the patient. Therefore ensuring the patients ongoing compliance to a program is central to the success of the exercise treatment program. To help the patient be compliant to exercise they require a clear understanding of why they are participating in exercise, have assistance with goal setting, be encouraged to participate in a customised exercise program that they enjoy and have ongoing professional support and program reviews.

AAESS Accredited Exercise Physiologists are allied health professionals that are qualified, experienced and insured to provide exercise treatment programs to patients with depression. Our programs provide your patients with:

  • Information on the effects of exercise on depression
  • Information on the best types of exercise for them and their illness
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Goal setting and reviews
  • Health and fitness assessments
  • Home exercise programs
  • Personalised exercise training
  • Group exercise training

Eligible patients can access reimbursements for Exercise Physiology services through Medicare Plus.

Simon Turnbull BHMS AAESS AEP
Exercise Physiologist
Enriched Health Care


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