Running vs Antidepressants for Anxiety and Depression

Having finished Pure Physiotherapy’s final GoJoe challenge of 2023 and completing a research review (see link) on the subject matter, I thought it would be an ideal time to write a mini blog on running and its potential impact on our well-being. For anyone thinking ‘What on earth is GoJoe?!’ It is a brilliant app that is compatible with most, if not all wearables and has provided a real source of companywide motivation and engagement for us to connect through our health and fitness (see link).  

The content of this blog is not medical advice but rather an exploration of my personal journey combined with some evidence. Whilst I will be focusing on my journey with running, the concepts could be applied to various forms of exercise. Ultimately, when it comes to exercise, it’s the ones we enjoy and adhere to that help the most!  

Personally, I have not experienced clinical anxiety or depression. However, like most people in the modern world I have dips in my wellbeing for which exercise has always been a good tonic. I’m not making light of the situation; exercise genuinely helps me. If I’m experiencing a dip then I’m often told to go for a run! 

I feel fortunate to have never experienced true anxiety or depression like some of my friends, family, patients, and that many others worldwide have. In 2022/23 in Great Britain, an average of 37.1% of women and 29.9% of men reported high levels of anxiety (1). Unfortunately, this showed an upward trend when compared to data from 2012 to 2015, when 21.8% of women and 18.3% of men reported high levels of anxiety (2).  

As for depression, it is said to affect around 1 in 6 adults in the UK (3). Interestingly, research shows that women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. However, 15% of women receive treatment for depression (4), compared to only 9% of men (5). It won’t be of any surprise to hear that around 17% of adults in the UK experienced some form of depression in summer 2021, compared to just 10% before the pandemic (4).  

Fortunately, help is available in many guises – one of which being exercise. Whilst this might be deemed a more holistic approach by some, many studies have highlighted the mood-enhancing effects of exercise which triggers the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters that can improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (6). Regular physical activity, including running, has also been shown to lower levels of stress hormones subsequently improving the body’s ability to handle stress (7).  

For anyone who hates running this will sound strange, but there can be something almost meditative when running by yourself (runners will know what I mean). However, it’s on those longer runs with a mate where I feel I have some of my most meaningful conversations. Whilst we all share a fundamental need for social interaction and whilst this varies from person to person, we know that positive relationships and shared activities contribute to our wellbeing. Conversely, we know that loneliness and social isolation increase health risks.  

There will be no surprise to hear that studies consistently show that regular exercise, such as running, can improve sleep quality and duration, which is often disrupted by anxiety and depression (8).  

Finally, the setting and subsequent achieving of running related goals can be a significant self-confidence and self-efficacy boost which I envisage would be helpful for anyone struggling with their well-being.  

If you’re reading this and thinking you’d like to start running but have concerns about the potential physical determinants, I suggest you check a previous blog that challenges some of these beliefs (see link).  

Whilst this blog is biased towards running, I would encourage everyone to try and incorporate some form of physical activity into their lives not only for the physical but mental benefits also.  


  1. ONS. (2023). Public opinions and social trends, Great Britain: personal well-being and loneliness. Retrieved from 
  2. ONS. (2017). Measuring National Well-being: Anxiety. Retrieved from
  3. ONS. (2021). Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: July to August 2021. Retrieved from  Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain – Office for National Statistics (
  4. Lubian, K., Weich, S., Stansfield, S., Bebbington, P., Brugha, T., Spiers, N., … & Cooper, C. (2016). Mental health treatment and services. NHS Digital.
  5. Streb, J., Ruppel, E., Möller-Leimkühler, A. M., Büsselmann, M., Franke, I., & Dudeck, M. (2021). Gender-specific differences in depressive behavior among forensic psychiatric patients. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 639191.
  6. Meeusen, R., Piacentini, M. F., & Meirleir, K. D. (2001). Brain microdialysis in exercise research. Sports Medicine, 31, 965-983.
  7. Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory. Clinical psychology review, 21(1), 33-61.
  8. Driver, H. S., & Taylor, S. R. (2000). Exercise and sleep. Sleep medicine reviews, 4(4), 387-402. 

Author – Matt Shutt, MSK Physiotherapist at Pure Physiotherapy.

Pure Physiotherapy can support you with any musculoskeletal concerns you may have. Our clinics located throughout the UK are here to help. Find the nearest clinic to you and book an appointment online.