Oct 22, 2020



In recent years there has been a new focus on alternative treatments for those suffering with co-occurring chronic conditions and depression. Exercise is now being promoted as an effective treatment to combat the symptoms of depression associated with chronic conditions. But why? How can exercise improve the mental and physical wellbeing of someone who also has other medical illnesses? Why is it important to focus on depression in these circumstances?

Depression is seen as a common co-morbid condition. There is an increased risk of developing depression in those with chronic conditions such as cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. This may be a result of adapting to a new reality and coping with difficult challenges that can cause huge changes in someone’s life.

Exercise has proven to be a great way to manage these depressive symptoms. Research findings has suggested that increased exercise improved both physical and mental health – with improved functioning in everyday life. It is associated with improved function of homeostatic systems – which helps to regulate responses to stress and therefore has a positive impact on anxiety symptoms. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality, improve the cardiovascular system and is associated with reduced mortality rate.

Reducing symptoms of depression may also have an impact of the efficacy of the treatments of the other condition. Studies suggest depression is related to reduced adherence to other medical conditions. As such, adjustments may need to be made for those with co-morbid conditions, which is why it is important to explore alternative therapies. By decreasing the symptoms of depression, this in turn may have a positive effect on the adherence of other treatments. Though more research needs to be conducted into this area.

Combating the negative effects of depression can greatly improve quality of life. In co-morbid conditions such as these, it is important to tackle both conditions, as evidence has suggested that tackling just the chronic condition does not guarantee that the depressive symptoms will also subside. With benefits to both physical and mental health, exercise can be an essential treatment to help reducing depression and can have long term benefits on the mental wellbeing of someone with a chronic condition.


Belvederi Murri, M., Ekkekakis, P., Magagnoli, M., Zampogna, D., Cattedra, S., Capobianco, L., … & Amore, M. (2019). Physical exercise in major depression: reducing the mortality gap while improving clinical outcomes. Frontiers in psychiatry9, 762.

Birk, J. L., Kronish, I. M., Moise, N., Falzon, L., Yoon, S., & Davidson, K. W. (2019). Depression and multimorbidity: Considering temporal characteristics of the associations between depression and multiple chronic diseases. Health Psychology, 38(9), 802–811.

Gold, S.M., Köhler-Forsberg, O., Moss-Morris, R. et al. Comorbid depression in medical diseases. Nat Rev Dis Primers 6, 69 (2020).

Herring, M. P., Puetz, T. W., O’Connor, P. J., & Dishman, R. K. (2012). Effect of exercise training on depressive symptoms among patients with a chronic illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Archives of Internal Medicine172(2), 101-111.

Schuch, F. B., & Stubbs, B. (2019). The role of exercise in preventing and treating depression. Current sports medicine reports18(8), 299-304.

Stewart, A. L., Hays, R. D., Wells, K. B., Rogers, W. H., Spritzer, K. L., & Greenfield, S. (1994). Long-term functioning and well-being outcomes associated with physical activity and exercise in patients with chronic conditions in the Medical Outcomes Study. Journal of clinical epidemiology47(7), 719-730.