Movement and Depression

It might surprise you to know that depression is quite common. Almost one in three U.S. adults have been diagnosed with it at some point, and it’s even more common among those with chronic pain. 

While movement can be a powerful way to help treat depression, it’s not always so simple as “exercise more.”

Exercising with depression is not easy, and there’s a physiological reason for this. Depression is associated with lower levels of dopamine and serotonin, chemicals in the body that influence mood. Dopamine is released before and during activities we enjoy, and it reinforces behavior, encouraging you to seek out activities that cause a dopamine release. 

But low dopamine may mean you don’t enjoy activities as much, so activities that require more effort — like exercise — become even more challenging, even if it’s something you used to look forward to. Plus low levels of serotonin can cause anxiety around exercise. 

What You Can Do 

Increasing physical activity — even a few minutes per day — can help reduce symptoms of depression. And while it can seem impossible at times to exercise while struggling with depression, there are steps you can take to break this cycle. Here are some tips from Hinge Health experts. 

  • Focus on quick, low-intensity sessions. You don’t need a long workout to see improvements in mood. Aim for activity that feels doable, such as a short walk or an exercise therapy session.

  • Pair your movement with an activity you enjoy, such as watching your favorite show or listening to a favorite podcast or music. As an extra incentive, save that favorite activity for only when you’re exercising.

  • Reframe what it means to exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to involve lacing up your running shoes or hitting the gym. Turn up the music and dance around your home, vacuum as quickly as you can, or run up and down the stairs a few times. 

  • Think of movement as medicine. If exercise feels unattainable in the face of depression, try to remember that it’s a form of therapy that provides your brain and body what it needs to thrive and feel better. 

  • Make it social. Maybe you have a friend, family member, or spouse that is also interested in more movement. Loved ones can provide great company and non-judgemental accountability. A pet can be a good companion too.

Above all, show yourself kindness and compassion. Do what you can to incorporate some movement into your day. Don’t be discouraged when you aren't able to be active. It’s easy for negative self-talk to creep in and it helps to be aware of it. Use those opportunities to reflect, recover, and try again tomorrow.

Starting a movement habit isn’t always easy, and we know mental health issues can make it even more challenging. But even small amounts of physical activity can have profound benefits on mental health. Finding the right type and intensity of exercise, and having social support, is key. For additional support, reach out to your health coach or physical therapist using the My Care tab in your app.

Key Takeaways 

  1. Depression is associated with lower levels of chemicals that influence mood, which makes exercise challenging.  

  2. Inactivity can make symptoms of depression worse. 

  3. Short, doable movement sessions can make a big difference. 


  1. Witters, D. (2023, May 17). U.S. Depression Rates Reach New Highs. Gallup.

  2. Chronic Pain and Mental Health Often Interconnected. (2020, November 13). American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from,with%20chronic%20pain%20experience%20depression

  3. Choi, K. W., Chen, C.-Y., Stein, M. B., Klimentidis, Y. C., Wang, M.-J., Koenen, K. C., & Smoller, J. W. (2019). Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults. JAMA Psychiatry, 76(4), 399. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175

  4. Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77(77), 42–51. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.02.023