Physical Activity as Treatment for Mental Health

For a long time, anti-depressants have been viewed as the only feasible treatment option for depression and other mental health issues. However, new research supports the use of physical activity as a viable alternative.


It can be concluded from the diagram above that exercise increases the production of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins within the brain. Serotonin can affect mood, appetite, sleep and social behavior. This effect can be positive or negative depending on the amount of serotonin present in the brain. Several common psychiatric drugs are used to regulate the release of serotonin and endorphins within the brain but have many negative side effects such as: insomnia, drowsiness, irritability, and dizziness. All of these negative side effects are absent when physical activity is used as an alternative treatment. Exercise Works! aptly describes this phenomenon in their tweet. They are promoting the use of exercise as a more effective way to treat many conditions rather than the use of drugs.

In this video, Professor Ken Fox digs deeper into the relationship between physical activity and mental health. He states that physical activity not only prevents mental health problems, but it also contributes to overall happiness and well-being. It was mentioned that physical activity has also been shown to help ward off neurodegenerative diseases associated with aging. Drawing from this video, it is evident that regular exercise is imperative to maintaining good physical health, mental health, and overall well-being.


Many people believe that anti-depressants are the only effective solution to treating depression. However, this graph clearly shows that a greater percentage of people fully recovered from depression using exercise as treatment as compared to people who solely used anti-depressants. People who used anti-depressants were also at a much greater risk of relapsing. Though a combination of both anti-depressants and exercise is typically suggested by psychiatrists, it is actually less effective than exercising on its own due to the increased risk of relapse that comes with psychotic medication.

Charles Barber talks about the over-prescription of antidepressants in his interview on NPR . The drug used to counteract the symptoms of depression seems to be effective but he states that other things should be looked at before resorting to this one type of treatment. Many people are being prescribed an anti-depressant for mild or situational depression caused by life adversities such as divorce, bankruptcy, grief, etc. It is certain that these people should still seek help but other treatments are suggested such as exercise, diet, and talk therapy. Anti-depressants should only be prescribed and taken for biological conditions (severe clinical depression). To ensure this happens, family physicians shouldn’t be responsible for diagnosing and then prescribing anti-depressants for psychological health issues. Up until recently, that power has expanded from solely psychiatrists to family practices. This has led to a severe increase of prescribed anti-depressants.

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