How Exercise Can Help Treat Your Depression

New research exposes the link between exercise, mood, and the endocannabinoid system.


New Research on How Exercise Can Treat Depression

We all know that exercising can help improve symptoms of depression by reducing stress and lifting moods. However, new research suggests that exercise can also be used as a prescribed tool for combatting major depression. 

Dr. Jacob D. Meyer and his team conducted a study with 17 females ranging from 20-60 years old, all of whom had a current diagnosis of major depression. Researchers measured the physiological and psychological effects of exercise at varying intensities on a stationary bike. Results were observed by taking blood samples of the patients 10 minutes before and after each session, as well as with surveys given 10 minutes before and up to 30 minutes after each session.

The study tested not only the effect of exercise, but the difference between prescribed and preferred exercise. In this study, the prescribed exercise session was scheduled for 30 minutes at a moderate-intensity, whereas the preferred session was conducted for 30 minutes, at whatever intensity the patient preferred. Each session was conducted at least one week apart. 

Surprisingly, researchers found that though both sessions raised patients’ mood, the levels of endocannabinoids in patients rose only with prescribed exercise.

What are Endocannabinoids and how do they affect us?

The endocannabinoid system is a a component of our larger central nervous system, and plays a role in our immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Endocannabinoids are known to effect moods by binding to receptors and sending signals which alter that cell’s behavior and functioning. 

Higher levels of endocannabinoids after exercise at home or at a gym, paired with a reported raise in mood, exposes a link between the endocannabinoid system and exercise on our mood. Though this link between the endocannabinoid system is not entirely new, it is still largely unexplored.


The effect that exercise has on our mood goes beyond a simple link between the endocannabinoid system. Much of our biological mechanisms are affected by exercise.

Still, Meyer and his team believe that increased levels of endocannabinoids after exercise is important to continue to explore, and that further studies on the effects of this link can lead to a more specialized approach of mobilizing exercise as a prescribed tool to combat major depression. 


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