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Walk or jog those blues away

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SSRI antidepressants are the standard treatment for depression, but new research has discovered that jogging, walking and most other types of exercise work better

Feeling depressed? Your doctor is likely to prescribe an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant drug or even to suggest psychotherapy—but taking up almost any type of exercise is a much better option.

Walking or jogging a few times a week is more than twice as effective as an SSRI, and other activities—such as yoga, aerobic exercise, strength training and tai chi—are almost as good. In fact, an SSRI drug on its own is one of the least helpful ways to alleviate your depression.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia took another look at 218 studies that had included 14,170 people of all ages who had been diagnosed with depression and measured the impact of different exercises compared to conventional treatments, such as SSRIs.1

Exercise is often recommended along with an SSRI—but the Australian researchers discovered that the drug may not be needed at all. And with all the side effects that come with these drugs, exercise is an option worth considering.

Walking and jogging are twice as effective for both sexes, while women were helped more than men by strength training, and men fared better with yoga or qigong. Older people benefited more from yoga than younger participants, who were helped more by strength training.

Dancing could be another way to ease depression, but it was so poorly researched in the studies, the researchers said its effectiveness couldn’t be properly assessed.

Increasing the intensity of the exercise increased its effectiveness, and doing the exercises with a group also helped.

This got the researchers thinking. Social interaction was important, for sure, but other things that came with exercising also helped alleviate depression. Examples are the type of mindfulness that is encouraged with yoga, tai chi and qigong; spending more time in green spaces; and a feeling of self-help that you don’t get from just popping a pill.

So exercise, and all that goes with it, is the first thing you need to lift the blues.

The best ways to beat the blues

Exercise/approach Depression reduction (%)
Walking or jogging     62
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)     55
Yoga     55
Exercise + SSRI     55
Aerobic exercise + therapy     54
Strength training     49
Relaxation     44
Mixed aerobic exercise     43
Tai chi or qigong     42
Aerobic + strength training     33
Cycling     30
SSRI drugs     26


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  1. BMJ, 2024; 384: e075847
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