There is growing evidence to support the effectiveness of exercise as an adjunct treatment for depression and bipolar disorder. One study found that bipolar inpatients who participated in a walking group 5 days per week for 40 minutes per session reported lower depression and anxiety symptoms than those who did not.1 An acute bout of exercise (i.e., walking for 20 minutes at 70% of an individual’s maximum heart rate) significantly improved bipolar participants’ mood.2

Exercise also compares favorably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression and has been shown to improve depressive symptoms when used as an adjunct to medications.3

Putting all the best studies together, the evidence indicates that exercise, at the least, has a moderate antidepressant effect, and at best, has a large effect on reductions in depression symptoms and could be categorized as a very useful and powerful intervention. Unfortunately exercise is rarely prescribed as a treatment for this common and debilitating problem.4

1 Ng F, Dodd S, Berk M. The effects of physical activity in the acute treatment of bipolar disorder: a pilot study. J Affect Disord. 2007; 101(1-3):259-62

2 Hays AE. Effect of an acute bout of aerobic exercise on dehydroepiandrosteronesulphate (DHEAS) in clinically diagnosed bipolar subjects. Diss Abstr Int: Sec B: Sci Eng. 2008; 68:5779

3 Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM. Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2011;41(1)15-28

4 https://nutritionfacts.org/video/exercise-vs-drugs-for-depression/