Why sunlight and exercise help with depression

Looking for a natural way to reduce symptoms of your depression? Have you tried sunlight and exercise?


Sunlight helps us produce serotonin, a hormone that boosts our mood, calms our mind, and helps us focus. Darkness, on the other hand, helps us produce melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us sleepy and is critical to our getting a good night’s sleep.

Not only does sunlight help you increase serotonin, but the reverse is also true. The Mayo Clinic, an American nonprofit medical practice and medical research group, claims that a drop in serotonin might play a role in seasonal affective disorder, and “reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.”

A 2007 article in Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience reported that sunlight is “an effective treatment for nonseasonal depression, and also reduces depressed mood in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder and in pregnant women suffering from depression.”

Plus, a 2009 article in Environmental Health noticed a link between decreased sunlight exposure and impaired cognitive function.

Go for a walk with your dog, open your blinds and curtains, spend time at the park with a friend, head to the post office to mail a letter to a loved one, take your bike instead of your car, or work in your garden. There are many ways to get more sunshine in your life.


Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine published in The Primary Care Companion – Journal of Clinical Psychiatry an analysis of a vast amount of research exploring the connection between exercise and mental health over the last century.

Since the early 1900s, researchers have been interested in the association between exercise and depression. . . . Many studies have examined the efficacy of exercise to reduce symptoms of depression, and the overwhelming majority of these studies have described a positive benefit associated with exercise involvement.

Not only does there appear to be positive mental health effect to exercise, but that effect may be long lasting, with participants in one study seeing mental health benefits for up to a year after their study.

After reviewing several studies, the researchers noticed that those who participated in the following activities saw a reduction in depressions symptoms:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Weightlifting
  • Flexibility training

A couple other finding include exercise being at least as effective as therapy or medication in treating depression.

The great thing about sunlight and exercise being beneficial to successfully managing depression is that many forms of exercise (such as walking, jogging, cycling, and even swimming sometimes) can be done outdoors, allowing you to take advantage of both natural mood boosters.

If you experience depression, consider including more sunlight exposure and exercise to your holistic mental health treatment.