Globally, millions of people suffer from depression, a complex and debilitating mental health condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. Those struggling with depression often have addiction issues aka co-occurring disorders (mental health problems suffered alongside addiction). So how does one alleviate these never-ending cycles? Research has shown there may be a link between exercise and the recovery of depression and addiction. So maybe it’s time everyone gets a little sweaty …

Depression symptoms can be life-altering. Symptoms include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, and feelings of unworthiness. The WHO also reports there are different kinds of depression patterns including:

  • Single episodes of depressive disorder: This would be a one time only episode
  • Recurring Episodes: Meaning a history of two or more depressive episodes
  • Bipolar Disorder: This is where depressive episodes fluctuate with manic episodes.

The Link Between Exercise and Depression

Although there are many treatments for these levels of depression including prescription medications, getting back to some basics of well-being might just be the game changer. Therapy, eating healthy, and exercising are all effective places to start. In recent years, fitness has emerged as the breakout star for treating depression and helping along healthy habits for those seeking sobriety. You’ve heard it plenty of times to get your exercise in for the physical benefits it can give your body. However, exercising has plenty of mental health benefits.

So why not fight off chronic diseases, improve your cardiovascular health, and improve depression symptoms in one swoop or dare we say one jog around the block! In fact, some studies have found exercise to be just as effective as medication at treating depression in adults! Physical activity was also linked to a lower risk of depression, according to another study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Over the course of the study, researchers followed a group of individuals for 11 years, finding that people who exercised for 150 minutes or more per week had a 22% lower chance of developing depression than those who did not exercise. The following are some additional benefits of exercise for depression:

  • Boosts mood by increasing the production of endorphins, the body’s natural mood booster.
  • Cortisol, a stress hormone linked to depression, is reduced.
  • Regulates sleep patterns, which is often disrupted with mood disorders.
  • Positively impacts self-esteem and body image.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can be countered with a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Reduces loneliness and isolation by increasing social interaction.

The Link Between Depression and Alcohol and Substance Addiction

Genetics, trauma, and stress often play a role in depression and addiction. Many turn to self-medication with drugs and alcohol to alleviate depression symptoms. Similarly, a person with an addiction may develop depression if they face financial burdens, relationship problems, or legal problems as a result of their substance use.The two go hand in hand. Individuals suffering from depression may also have difficulty recovering from addiction, experiencing decreased motivation, impaired decision-making, and low stress tolerance. A substance abuser may also become socially isolated, which can make depression worse. Physical activity can help support recovery by fostering social connections and a sense of community and this is why many rehab and recovery centers consider it an important tool for those managing addiction. People who participate in physical activity are less likely to develop cravings for substances and are more likely to stay on track with their recovery as well. Exercise can also boost a person’s confidence and enable him or her to celebrate their accomplishments, including their sobriety! The following are some additional benefits of exercise for addiction:

  • Increases dopamine levels, which are associated with pleasure and reward, thus reducing cravings for drugs or alcohol.
  • Reduces anxiety, stress, and depression, which can often trigger addiction or relapse.
  • Substitutes drug and alcohol use with a healthy and positive activity.
  • Individuals can identify triggers and manage cravings by increasing self-awareness and mindfulness.


Depression and addiction may also be treated more effectively with different types and intensities of exercise. In studies, aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, has been shown to be especially effective at reducing depression symptoms. This is because people often increase heart rate and breathing while doing aerobic exercise, which releases endorphins. Weightlifting and bodyweight exercises have also been found to reduce depression symptoms. This is in part because resistance training improves strength and muscle mass. This can lead to that increased confidence and self-esteem, both important in treating depression.

Regardless of whether you are suffering from depression, addiction, or any other mental health issue, exercise can be an important tool to help manage them. Many people find exercise and movement to be life changing in a positive way, so it is important to find time to make it a part of your daily routine. Scottsdale Recovery and Detox Center® provides a wide range of services to address substance abuse issues and co-occurring conditions like depression. Visit or call 1-888-NODRUGS for more information and support.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.