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Exercise For Treating Depression? Researchers Identify Activities That May Be As Effective As Therapy


Physical activity is associated with improved mental health. In a recent study, researchers identified certain forms of exercise that may be equally effective as therapy in treating depression.

Depression or major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common mental health condition that causes a persistent feeling of sadness, so much so that it affects the way a person’s daily activity, behavior, and the way they think. A combination of medications and psychotherapy is the recommended treatment for people with depression.

In the latest study, researchers found that walking, jogging, yoga, tai chi, aerobic exercises, and strength training are the exercise forms that could be used in potential treatment for depression.

“Exercise is an effective treatment for depression, with walking or jogging, yoga, and strength training more effective than other exercises, particularly when intense. Yoga and strength training were well tolerated compared with other treatments. Exercise appeared equally effective for people with and without comorbidities and with different baseline levels of depression,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the British Medical Journal.

The findings were made after evaluating data from more than 14,000 participants from 218 studies on exercise and depression. Researchers noted that the intensity of the activity was directly linked to the extent of improvement in depression symptoms. However, even low-intensity exercises such as walking or yoga also offered significant benefits.

“We found activities such as walking, jogging, yoga, and strength training were extremely beneficial for treating depression. Strength training was found to be an especially effective exercise for younger women, whereas older men received the most benefit from yoga,” said lead study author, Dr. Michael Noetel.

“We know people often respond well to medication and psychotherapy for depression, but many are resistant to treatment. We found exercise should be considered alongside traditional interventions as a core treatment for depression. Of course, anyone getting treatment for depression should talk to their doctor before changing what they are doing, but most people can start walking without many barriers,” Noetel added.

Researchers cautioned that the results of the study may be affected by a range of experimental biases. Since blinding for exercise interventions is harder than experiments involving drugs, it was challenging to avoid expectancy effects. However, researchers still recommended “the inclusion of exercise as part of clinical practice guidelines for depression, particularly vigorous intensity exercise.”

“Different types of exercise work in different ways – some are social and get us outside while others help us become more confident or get more space from our thoughts. But all exercise releases neurotransmitters that can change the way we are feeling. If exercise was a pill, it would fly off the shelves,” Noetel said.



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