Exercise Will Not Make You Happy

Illustration for article titled Exercise Will Not Make You Happy

Even though your morning jog may give you a brief high, don't assume that working out can make you happy in the long-term. A new study suggests that however much exercise you do, it won't help reduce the symptoms of depression.


The research, which is published in the British Medical Journal, runs counter to many clinical guidelines that suggest those suffering from mental illness—including depression—should exercise as part of their care regime. But this new study is actually the first large-scale, randomized controlled trial to establish the effects of exercise on depression, with the old advice being based on small, non-clinical samples that really shouldn't hold much sway.

The new research studied the effects of physical activity on 361 patients aged 18 to 69 years who had recently been diagnosed with depression. Half the group received psychical activity interventions to complement their usual care, while the other half just received standard treatment.

The results show that those who exercised saw absolutely no improvement in their symptoms compared to the control group. John Campbell, one of the researchers from the University of Exeter, explained to The Telegraph:

"Many patients suffering from depression would prefer not to have to take traditional anti-depressant medication, preferring instead to consider alternative non-drug based forms of therapy... Exercise and activity appeared to offer promise as one such treatment, but this carefully designed research study has shown that exercise does not appear to be effective in treating depression."

So, while cycling to work might make you feel virtuous for an hour or two, don't count on it to keep your spirits up in the long term. Oh, well. There's always donuts. [BMJ via The Telegraph]


Image by Rido/Shutterstock


All this proves is that people who already have medically diagnosed depression can't get out of it through exercise alone. It doesn't prove that exercise won't make you happier in general if you're not already medically depressed.