Depression, Exercise and Mental Health: A Holistic Approach Towards Therapeutic Movement

Depression, Exercise and Mental Health: A Holistic Approach Towards Therapeutic Movement


This article will cover the importance of exercise and movement, and the role it plays with depression and mental health. What is depression? Most people might have a common idea or understanding of depression. Clinical depression is described as a mood disorder that is a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest.

This article will describe how to beat depression naturally. Can depression be caused by a lack of exercise? Which exercises help reduce depression? What are holistic approaches to depression, and do coping mechanisms such as overeating help with depression? Depression is painful and it can be difficult to understand the correct approach on how to manage it or completely resolve it. This article will also cover the importance of mental health and relationship between mental health, exercise, and anxiety.  Exercise can help the brain become more resilient by coping with stress more efficiently.  This will help make the brain more adaptable to stress.

Natural ways to help with depression

As mentioned earlier depression is a mood disorder that makes someone feel sad or have loss of interest. Depression can be caused by a number of things such as stressful life events, substance abuse, and brian chemistry associated with genetics or hormonal imbalances. So what does this mean for someone with depression? This means taking a holistic approach to addressing depression. Every aspect of a person's life needs to be carefully examined to see what that person needs to add or remove from their lifestyle to eliminate the depression, and what is causing the depression. When someone is dealing with depression it is common they might take medication to help with the depression. If someone takes medication to treat their depression but does not also account for other variables in their life it can be a shortsighted approach to managing depression. For example, if a person takes medication but does not account for the fact that they are getting too much blue light after the sun sets, this can negatively affect their condition. Depression gradually develops in one’s life over an accumulation of causes, some of which are more apparent than others. Regardless of which aspect seems to be the root, they are all interconnected. Because of this, depression needs to be treated from a systems approach, otherwise when isolating your approach to a singular cause, you end up only chasing the symptoms. This approach will examine how this person is sleeping, eating, the light they are exposed to, the relationships they have with others, their mental health and of course their physical health. Examining someone's lifestyle as a whole and evaluating what the person needs on a cellular level will help improve the person's overall life. Humans need high quality food, with optimal sleep, adequate amount of natural sunlight, reciprocal relationships and biomechanically sound movement principles in their lifestyle in order to have healthy mental and physical wellness. If these things are not being considered in treating depression it is possible that the depression might never heal or be properly managed. 

Depression and Exercise

The link to depression and exercise is very significant. There have been countless studies on the benefits of exercising and how it can positively impact mood and help aid with depression. Because depression can be induced by a variety of reasons, exercise can be a great stress reliever.

When someone is dealing with depression they can lose their interest in hobbies or activities they once had, some of those activities might have been exercising. Can depression be caused by a lack of exercise? The answer to this question is yes. However not all exercise is optimal for depression. If someone has depression because they are dealing with some sort of physical pain, such as knee pain or lower back pain, exercising with that pain will likely only make their pain and depression worse. 

The best exercise to not do is the one that is going to elicit pain. That can be contextual per person. A good blueprint to follow is to do exercises that human beings evolved to do with proper biomechanics. This includes walking, running, and throwing. Running can be tricky. If someone is dealing with a significant amount of physical imbalances and decides to run long distances with poor running mechanics, this can cause the imbalances to become worse and the depression to become even greater. It is important for a person to take a holistic approach to their pain and imbalances along with their depression and work to address it simultaneously.

Once someone works on their biomechanical issues along with their depression, exercise can be a potent tool to help achieve optimal mental and physical health. These exercises can be walking, running, playing games such as basketball, tennis, volleyball, and strength training that is orientated around the gait cycle. Doing these exercises with proper mechanics should result in therapeutic exercise, especially when doing these activities outside.  The sun will help balance out hormone levels by increasing vitamin D which will help with depression. Exercises should be done mindfully to help with depression. Doing a cookie cutter fitness routine with injuries or severe mental/physical imbalances can cause more harm than good by increasing depression and anxiety. 

 A Look at Coping Mechanisms for Depression

Everyone needs to cope. There are “Healthy” coping mechanisms, and “Unhealthy” coping mechanisms. The terms “Healthy” and “Unhealthy” are subjective; so to be a little more clear on what we are trying to describe when using these terms, “healthy” is going imply taking actions that provide a positive return on investment leading to one’s body, and thus mind, regenerating. On the other hand, “unhealthy” is going to imply taking actions that provide a negative return on investment, impacting one’s body in a way that prevents them from being able to heal and grow, and ultimately results in the degeneration of your health. Degeneration can look like aches in the body that seem to never go away, progressing into shooting pains, imbalanced movement to avoid irritating it further, and eventually leading to chronic pain or injury. This is just one example, as degeneration can affect many aspects of one’s life.

As you observe your own life, your daily decisions and their outcomes or consequences, you may realize that some actions you thought were “healthy” could very well be the opposite, or pushing yourself beyond your limits to try to make “healthy” choices can sometimes make them “unhealthy”.

Let’s look at certain choices that we would define as starting to lead down a path of degeneration of one’s health.

Sometimes people will use substances such anti-depressants, cannabis, alcohol, and junk/processed foods to deal with depression. This can result in a negative compounding effect if repeated habitually without attempting to wean off or resolve with more productive coping mechanisms, such as getting enough sun, drinking clean water, and moving in a way that regenerates your health. A result of cycling through exogenous substances is that it can create a hormonal imbalance which will make the depression worse. You are basically treating your body like a chemistry experiment.

If someone is suffering from depression, ideally it would be best to regulate their hormones endogenously. For example, there are a slew of side effects from antidepressants, drugs, and alcohol such as increased anxiety, fatigue, and trouble sleeping, among other symptoms. These effects might make the person dependent on caffeine in order to cope even further. Then the patient is in a never ending cycle of antidepressant and caffeine, and potentially increasing their risk of taking more substances to “balance” out their hormones.

“Unhealthy” coping mechanisms do not help with depression in the long term. There may be short term gratification, but in order to help treat the depression or anxiety, the person needs to address the root causes of their behaviors that lead to depression and use holistic approaches to solve it.


Mental Health and Anxiety

Exercise plays a pivotal role in mental health which is a huge factor with depression and anxiety. There are many statistics on the benefits of exercise and the positive effects it has on mental health. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.There is also a chemical reaction in the body when working out, endorphins are released which will help improve mood, and could lead to a decrease in anxiety.

Exercise can also help improve confidence, when a person is able to complete a challenging task such as exercise and feel good connections in their body, it can leave the person feeling fulfilled, increase confidence, and self esteem. As well as improve sleep, which will ultimately help the body recharge and relax, which will help aid with anxiety and improve mental health.  The benefits of being outside in nature and getting adequate sunlight also plays a pivotal role in depression, anxiety and improving overall mental health. 

Being outside in nature can be used as a way to “reset the mind”, of constant stress. Nature walks benefit people suffering from depression. Studies had shown that people suffering from mild to major depressive disorders showed significant mood upliftments when exposed to nature. Not only that, but they also felt more motivated and energized to recover and get back to normalcy. Treating nature as an antidepressant and using the sun to help stimulate hormonal responses that will make the body less anxious and depressed seems like an optimal tool for depression. Going out into nature has countless benefits. Grounding is a way to negatively charge the body. Negatively charging the body helps reduce inflammation in the body which can also help reduce depression. There is a direct correlation to sunlight and depression. When sunlight hits the retina in the eye it releases serotonin. Lack of serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety. 



Depression hurts but it doesn’t have to be a crippling chronic illness. Using holistic approaches can help depression. Exercise is a therapeutic option to addressing depression and the symptoms that come along with it. A systematic approach to exercise would apply Functional Patterns training methodology. This also encompasses lifestyle approaches to help with depression, such as the type of foods that a person is consuming, quality of sleep and more. To find out more information find a practitioner near you or go to the 10 week online course to get started on addressing problems such as depression, pain, and anxiety. 


  1. Mayo Clinic - Depression (major depressive disorder) - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic 
  2. Anxiety & Depression Association of America- Exercise for Stress and Anxiety | Anxiety and (
  3. Positive Psychology - The Positive Effects Of Nature On Your Mental Wellbeing (

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