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Using Exercise to Enhance Your Mood

With the advent of a New Year, many of us are preparing our annual resolutions. And, as can be predicted the promise to exercise more or to begin an exercise routine is a vow made by many of us whose waistlines have expanded over the last few months. Why do we make such promises to ourselves every year? Most likely, because most of us know that exercise has a definite physiological benefit. Physicians have prescribed exercise as the treatment for a broad range of medical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and diabetes. Other benefits are improved breathing, reduced joint stiffness, and increased physical energy. Yet, perhaps not everyone is fully aware of the long-term psychological benefits of exercise.

Mood problems can be present for many different reasons and causes, and they can affect all aspects of our lives, including the workplace. A study by the RAND Corporation found that patients with depression spend more days in bed than those patients with other medical disorders, such as diabetes, arthritis, back or lung problems. Researchers have spent more than 25 years systematically investigating the relationship between exercise and mood problems. Researchers investigating the effects of exercise on volunteers with depression found that “exercise therapy is feasible and is associated with significant therapeutic benefit,” particularly if the exercise program is continued over time. They believe that systematic exercise may have a positive psychological benefit, because it seems to increase the development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard. Yet, it can be a challenge to plan, initiate, and maintain an exercise regimen.


As with any major undertaking to create change and bring about benefit, a carefully thought out and comprehensive assessment of one’s life circumstances should be established. If possible, seek professional assistance with this task. There are a number of psychotherapists who are specially trained to work with individuals around the issue of formulating an exercise regimen to manage mood problems. Listed below are some steps taken in this highly collaborative endeavor:

This approach strongly encourages a highly collaborative problem-solving relationship with a therapist which can prove to be a powerful component in the success of enhancing your mood through the medium of exercise. An important consideration is to always consult with your physician prior to implementing a new exercise regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

Establishing a healthy lifestyle can be a challenge; therefore, feel free to contact the UCSF FSAP (Faculty and Staff Assistance Program).

References and Resources



  1. Babyak, M. et al, Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at Ten Months. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2000, pp. 62, 633-638.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.

  3. Pollock, K. M., Exercise in Treating Depression: Broadening the Psychotherapist’s Role. Journal of Clinical Psychology/In Session: Psychotherapy in Practice. 57(11), 2001, pp. 1289-1300.