Exercise to manage depression is far more effective than drugs and counseling

Happy Woman Exercise Treadmill

A new study by researchers at the University of South Australia reveals that exercise is 1.5 times more effective than counseling or primary medication in managing depression. The most comprehensive study to date included 97 reviews, 1039 trials, 128,119 participants, and found that physical activity significantly improved symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress. It has been shown to be beneficial to The review also found that exercise interventions within 12 weeks were most effective in reducing mental health symptoms.

University of South Australia Researchers are calling for exercise to be the primary approach to managing depression.

Posted in British Journal of Sports Medicine, this review is the most comprehensive to date, containing 97 reviews, 1039 trials, and 128,119 participants. Physical activity has been shown to be highly beneficial in improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress.

Specifically, this review showed that exercise interventions within 12 weeks were most effective in reducing mental health symptoms, highlighting the speed at which physical activity makes a difference.

The greatest effects were seen in depressed people, pregnant and postpartum women, healthy people, and those diagnosed with HIV or kidney disease.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 8 people worldwide (970 million) have a mental disorder.. Poor mental health costs the global economy about $2.5 trillion annually, and by 2030 this cost is projected to rise to $6 trillion.. of An estimated 1 in 5 Australians (ages 16-85) have experienced a mental disorder in the last 12 months..

UniSA principal investigator Ben Singh, PhD, says physical activity needs to be prioritized to better manage the growing number of mental health conditions.

“Physical activity is known to help improve mental health. However, despite the evidence, it is not widely adopted as a first-line treatment,” says Dr. Singh.

“Our review found that physical activity interventions significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations, with some groups showing even greater signs of improvement.

“High-intensity exercise contributed significantly to improving depression and anxiety, but long-term exercise had a smaller effect than short- and medium-term bursts.

“We’ve also found that all types of physical activity and exercise are beneficial, including aerobic exercise such as walking, strength training, Pilates, and yoga.

“Importantly, this study shows that exercise doesn’t take long to make positive changes in mental health.”

Senior Research Fellow UniSA Professor Carol Maher says the study is the first to assess the effects of any type of physical activity on depression, anxiety and distress in all adult populations.

“Considering these studies as a whole is an effective way for clinicians to easily understand the body of evidence that supports physical activity in the management of mental health disorders.

“We hope this review will highlight the need for physical activity, including structured exercise interventions, as a primary approach to managing depression and anxiety.”

Reference: “Effectiveness of physical activity interventions to ameliorate depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of a systematic review” Ben Singh, Timothy Olds, Rachel Curtis, Dorothea Dumuyde, Rosa Virgara, Amanda Watson, Kimberly Seto, Edward O’Connor, Ty Ferguson, Emily Eglitis, Aaron Miatke, Catherine EM Simpson, Carol Maher, 16 Feb 2023, British Journal of Sports Medicine.
DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195

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