With the darker wet days of winter well and truly here, getting active may be the last thing you feel like doing. Long summer evening walks have been replaced by evenings curled up in front of the TV. It can be difficult to muster up the motivation to throw your rain gear on and head out to exercise, facing the dark damp evenings head on. However, when struggling with your mental health, exercise has been shown to have a powerful beneficial effect on our mood and help in the treatment of depression.

Ireland has been reported to have one of the highest rates of mental health issues in Europe. 18.5% of the Irish population were reported to have a mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar or alcohol/ drug use, according to the Health at a Glance report in 2016.

The St Patrick’s Mental Health Services 2022 Annual Survey found that the number of people treated for mental health difficulty has risen from 26% in 2018 to 39% in 2022.

Thankfully, the survey also showed a positive impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had, with six in 10 people more comfortable talking openly about their mental health now, compared to pre-pandemic.


Low mood, fatigue, reduced concentration, a loss of interest and enjoyment in ordinary things and experiences and feeling sad or anxious are just some of the symptoms associated with depression.

It is normal to feel this way once in a while, but if these feelings persist or are affecting your daily life, seeking help is important.

Depression affects both your mental and physical health. It can be associated with challenging life events or affect those living with chronic health issues.

Researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) found that over half of farmers surveyed reported experiencing moderate to extremely severe depression.

The Health at a Glance report also found that those unemployed or full-time homemakers, have lower well-being and mental health scores than those in full-time or part-time employment.

It is important to be alert to possible depression in those around you, particularly during the winter months, as people often become less active and more isolated.

Impact of exercise

It is a well-known fact that exercise has a positive impact on our heart and other bodily systems. But exercise also has a positive impact on our brain, releasing hormones known as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.

These hormones make us feel good, helping to increase the sensation of pleasure and positivity. They are also commonly found in or targeted by antidepressant medications.

Many studies have shown that people who exercise regularly benefit from a positive boost in their mood and experience lower levels of depression. Exercise helps to increase production and release of these feel-good hormones. Research has also shown exercise to be as helpful as antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

People with depression often experience a lot of negative thoughts, feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. Exercise also helps to improve self-esteem, promoting the development of new skills and the opportunity to meet people.

Social connection is extremely important, especially for those feeling isolated and on the periphery of communities. Group exercise, whether through classes or clubs, is a great way to exercise and connect with people at the same time. Group exercise is also recommended in the management and treatment of depression.

Start small

No one type of exercise has been proven to be more beneficial for the treatment of depression. If you are anxious about beginning to exercise, start small and build from there.

Walking, swimming, dancing, gardening, golf and yoga are just some examples of exercise you could include in your daily routine.

There are lots of people and groups in your community that can offer support and guidance. Reach out to a friend or family member to go for a walk, contact your local community centre to ask about activity or exercise groups, ask your GP or check your parish newsletter for societies or clubs.

Try something new or just begin with a simple daily walk. I guarantee you will feel better for doing it.

Note: If you are experiencing depression and would like more information and support, talk to your GP or check out www.aware.ie, email supportmail@aware.ie or Freephone: 1800804848.

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