Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation for Anxiety and Depression


Am Fam Physician. 2010 Apr 15;81(8):987.

  See related article on exercise.

What are depression and anxiety?

Depression is a common illness that is serious. It is normal to sometimes have sad feelings for a couple of days. However, if you have depression, these feelings last for two weeks or longer. It affects how you cope with daily life and causes pain for you and those who care about you.

Anxiety is a feeling that can be a normal reaction to stress. It can help you cope with difficult situations. It can make you feel nervous or worried. Anxiety becomes a problem when it happens a lot, feels out of control, or causes you to avoid everyday situations.

How are they usually treated?

In general, treatment is with medicine, specific types of therapy, or both. Your doctor will help you find a treatment that works best for you. This will depend on your symptoms, preferences, and other illnesses you may have.

Can exercise, yoga, and meditation help?

Interest is growing in using these methods to help with anxiety and depression. They may be popular because they are easily available and seem less likely to cause adverse effects.

For mild to moderate depression, these methods can help as much as some types of medicines and therapy. Exercise and yoga can help when combined with medicine or therapy. Exercise and yoga may help with anxiety, but there isn't much proof of this.

Choose an exercise program that is best for your age and level of health. This includes different types of yoga that range from gentle to challenging. Ask your doctor to help you choose a safe program if you have heart problems or other ongoing medical problems. For yoga, make sure you pick a well-trained teacher.

Meditation may help with anxiety and depression. Types of meditation exercises include tai chi (TIE chee) and qigong (chee-GONG). These use slow, careful movements, relaxed breathing, and deep mental focus.

Where can I get more information?

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Web site on yoga:

Web site on meditation:

Web site on tai chi:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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