The best treatment for depression could be exercise: Study

2023-03-27 22:43:37
The best treatment for depression could be exercise: Study

Exercise as a treatment for severe depression is at least as effective as standard drugs or psychotherapy and by some measures better, according to the largest study to date of exercise.

The study pooled data from 41 studies involving 2,265 people with depression and showed that almost any type of exercise substantially reduces depression symptoms, although some forms of exercise seemed more beneficial than others.

“We found large, significant results,” said Andreas Heissel, an exercise scientist at the University of Potsdam in Germany, who led the study.

For people struggling with depression, he said, the findings show you don’t have to run marathons or otherwise train strenuously to benefit. “Something is better than nothing,” Heissel said.

The effects were robust enough that the study’s authors hope the finding will spur a move to make exercise a standard, prescribed therapy for depression.

The research behind exercise and depression

Scientists and clinicians have known for some time that exercise protects us against developing depression. In large-scale epidemiological studies, active men and women become depressed at much lower rates than sedentary people, even if they exercise for only a few minutes a day or a few days a week.

In the study published in February in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a global group of researchers pulled together every recent experiment using physical activity as depression therapy. They wound up with data from 41 studies of about 2,265 volunteers, representing the largest sample yet on this topic.

The studies’ exercise programs included walking, running and weight training. Some consisted of group classes, others solo workouts, some supervised, some not. But all featured people with depression getting up and moving more.

Pooled, the effects were potent. Overall, people with depression who exercised in any way improved their symptoms by almost five points, using one widely recognized diagnostic scale, and by about 6.5 points using another. For both scales, an improvement of three points or more is considered clinically meaningful, the study’s authors write.

In practical terms, these numbers suggest that, for every two people with depression who start to exercise, one of them should experience “a large-magnitude reduction in depressive symptoms,” Heissel said.

The study did not look at how exercise might be improving mental health. In past research with depressed mice, as well as with people, exercise raised levels in the brain and bloodstreams of various biochemicals known to be involved in mood enhancement. It also often elevated people’s self-efficacy, which is the sense that you are capable of more than you once believed, a change typically associated with better mental health.

Source: The Washington Post


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