you gotta


how not
exercising is like taking

a depressant

"You gotta move." Big Sean was right.

Working out. It's one of those things: you either hate it or love it or do it very begrudgingly because you know you should. Everyone knows exercise is important for your physical health. However, when it comes to your mental health—sweating it out is a hell of a lot more important than you think.  

The Science

In a study with 156 clinically depressed adults, researchers divided participants into three categories: 1/3 took Zoloft (a standard antidepressant medication) as prescribed, 1/3 followed a fitness regime (30 mins, 3x/wk), and the final third took medication AND followed the same fitness regime.


Take a guess at the results. Which group(s) do you think recovered fastest and most long-term?

The Results

After 4 months, both the exercise and medication groups were found to have made similar progress in improvement; in other words, exercise was found to be AS EFFECTIVE as the meds AND the 'both' condition. However, at the 10 month check in, those in the exercise group had SIGNIFICANTLY lower relapse rates compared to subjects in the medication group and 'both' condition.

Why was the 'both' condition not equal to exercise?

You may be asking yourself: if exercise was found to be a better long-term method for battling depression, then WHY didn't the 'both' condition reap the same benefits? Logically, one might even hypothesize that the 'both' group would recover the fastest since seemingly all their bases would be covered: they’d have the advantage of taking the medication AND working out.

It all comes down to something called ‘self-efficacy.’ In essence, self-efficacy is basically you believing you are a competent human being and are able to accomplish what you set your mind to. In other words, you are able to attribute positive gains to changes you yourself make.

In this particular example, exercise was an act that participants completed entirely on their own. Therefore, the ‘exercise-only’ group was able to attribute ALL of their recovery to their own hard work and only that, whereas those in the ‘both’ condition couldn’t rule out medication for being part of the reason their diagnosis improved.

This is a big deal.

This study has HUGE implications for healing depression. Scientist Michael Babyak and his research team revealed that for at least two thirds of the population, exercise is as or MORE effective than Zoloft.


So as Tim Bono, professor at Washington University in St. Louis, put it "exercise isn't like taking an antidepressant. Not exercising is like taking a depressant."

Key Concepts

Mental Health, Exercise