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Depression, mood and exercise

Updated Tuesday, 25 June 2019
Looking for a few tips on increasing your mood? Dr Jitka Vseteckova explores the relationship between depression and exercise. 

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It is great for everybody to get outdoors and walk or exercise otherwise. Ideally daily, and if not daily, then regularly on other days. But that is not so easy, if we are suffering from depression or other mental health issues.

Depression is a common mental health disorder, characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. During the time that we suffer a depressive attack we can’t see a reason (can’t find strength) to do anything. Anything… Sometimes it is difficult to even get out of bed.

Being depressed can leave us feeling low in energy, which might put us off from being active. Research has shown that regular exercise/physical activity can boost our mood. It might be the last thing we would think of doing, but it may be the one that it’s worth the most.


Walking and other physical activity regularises the blood supply to all your vital organs and tissues, that including the brain.

Regular supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and other organs is immensely important. ‘Regular’ is the key word here. Our brains consume about 20% of glucose and 20% of oxygen of the overall consumption of our body. If the brain isn’t getting its supplies regularly, it cannot work so efficiently.

Physical activity does not always mean running, swimming or going to the gym or attend classes. These are of course healthy activities but may not be suitable for all for us or not at the beginning of a lifestyle change journey. Being physically active also means not avoiding exercise when there is an “easier” or more convenient alternative such as walking to the shops instead of driving the car or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Being physically active is very much about not avoiding moving whenever and wherever we have the chance. If we are still happy to swim, run, trek, walk, attend gym classes etc. it is great and we need to keep that going. Adding these activities as part of our routine in everyday life has immense benefits to our physical and mental health.


I have already mentioned that our organs and tissues need a regular input in terms of blood bringing all the necessary nutrients and oxygen. This is also great for our muscles, our liver, kidneys, hearts and lungs. As I will explain later, breathing regularly while moving is crucial too.

With regular blood circulation and good hydration and nutrition we will maintain our tissues (such as muscles, tendons) and organs in good function for longer, as we are all ageing. This increases our fitness, feelings of health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, and helps us to be ready to live better for longer.

Regular physical activity together with good hydration and nutrition enable our brain to function well for longer too.

There is a motto that is used a lot in relation to ageing but it is valid throughout our lifespan: ‘USE IT OR LOSE IT!’. Therefore, we need to think and decide for ourselves what we need to do if we don’t want to lose the capacity in our vital organs. And we need to systematically / regularly exercise the functions that we do not want to lose. It is like learning a foreign language in the primary school. Most of us have done that, but if we don’t practice the language (not just spoken, but also reading and writing), we will most probably lose it, quickly.


Depression or other mental health syndromes do not tend to get better with ageing so the sooner we start helping our body and mind to feel better through regular exercise, the less ageing is going to adversely affect us in terms of metal health and wellbeing. As we all know, physical and mental health are not two different things. These are very closely interlinked entities with one greatly influencing the other. Every improvement that is achieved in our physical health, we will soon feel the improvement in our mental health too.


Depression, mood and exercise_Smiley_2 Have you been sitting for a while whilst reading this article? Why not try getting up and getting yourself a drink of water, making few steps and perhaps going for a short walk. When you come back you can finish this article where I talk a little more about breathing and hydration. 




Breathing well is an important part of any activity. Again, regularity is the focus here. We live full lives and get stressed a lot. When we are stressed and hold our breath a lot, insufficient expiration prompts insufficient inspiration, which, all in all, means less oxygen for our brain that so much needs it.



and the amount of clear water we drink every day impacts on our mood and can make the feeling of depression worse when we are dehydrated. Staying hydrated is immensely important.

The basic metabolic rate decreases the older we get. The less we drink water (and the more we are dehydrated) the more the metabolism slows down. Metabolism isn’t only about how quickly we process food, but also how quickly the basic hormonal actions and reactions are happening, how quickly our liver and kidneys and other vital organs including brain work.

With insufficient hydration, metabolic rate decreases (slowing further down metabolic processes in our body). As a result, medication/drugs are expelled from our bodies slower. We should be concerned about how we can eliminate quickly all drugs from the system as the accumulation of drugs (due to slow kidney and liver function – due to dehydration and no exercise) leads to harmful drugs interactions. This negatively influences our muscle function and neural system functions and is toxic. It further increases our sedation, we feel weaker, dizzier, wobblier and have more violent mood swings, headaches, drowsiness and sometimes feel confused.

Depression, mood and exercise_drinking

​The strict minimum of water intake in our daily diet is 1.5 litres (of course if we are taking any diuretics, laxatives we need to drink more). This is only to make sure that the metabolic processes can be carried out by our bodies. Ideally the water intake should be much closer to 2 litres per day excluding coffee, tea, alcohol, as these are dehydrating beverages and have further diuretic effect. With alcohol, the risk of dehydration rises and may also affect the behaviour of the drugs in our bodies. Long term and severe dehydration can also causes memory loss and other symptoms mimicking early signs of dementia or Alzheimer disease.

Staying hydrated, be mindful about how we breathe and exercise regularly is mandatory to sustain our physical and mental wellbeing over a long period of time.


Perhaps it is again time to have a glass of water and go out for a walk?


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