The best treatment for depression could be exercise
Exercise as a treatment for severe depression is at least as effective as standard drugs or psychotherapy and by some measures better, according to a recent study.
The research was published in February in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It is the largest study to date of exercise as “medicine” for depression.
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.
That approach would represent a notable shift. The World Health Organization promotes exercise for mental health as an add-on to traditional treatments — not on its own.
But the study’s authors are confident. “We expect this review to lead to updated guidelines and recommendations for exercise as a first-line treatment option,” Heissel said.