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18 Jun 2021

Exercise should be prescribed for depression, finds report from the John W Brick Mental Health Foundation
BY Tom Walker

Three to five 30-45-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week appear to deliver optimal mental health benefits

Three to five 30-45-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week appear to deliver optimal mental health benefits
photo: Shutterstock/ikselstock

People with depression should be prescribed exercise and then monitored for the first 12 weeks of their regime – similar to the way physical therapy is used to help people recover from injuries.

The recommendation comes from a new report – Move Your Mental Health – which summarises data from 1,158 studies and reviews 20+ types of physical activities in relation to mental health outcomes.

Out of the 1,158 studies, 89 per cent (1,029) reported "significant positive relationships" between physical activity and mental health outcomes.

Types of physical activity with the greatest number of positive studies were general physical activity, with 370 studies showing significant and positive results. This was followed by cardiovascular and aerobic activity with 189 positive studies and yoga with 165 positive studies.

When examining only randomised controlled trials – 56 per cent of the studies reviewed were randomised trials – the vast majority (87 per cent) reported positive effects of exercise/physical activity on mental health outcomes.

Overall, three to five 30-45-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week appear to deliver optimal mental health benefits.

The report, compiled by John W Brick Mental Health Foundation, states that high-frequency exercise (3-5 times per week) is better for reducing depressive symptoms than low-frequency exercise (1 time per week).

More exercise is not always better, however, according to the authors.

There appears to be a "U-shaped curve", in which people who engage in moderate to vigorous exercise 3-5 times per week show better mental health than those who exercise under three or over five times per week.

Some high-intensity exercise can also increase anxiety immediately post-exercise.

Lead author Cassandra Vieten, executive director of John W Brick Mental Health Foundation, said: "Research overwhelmingly supports a beneficial role of exercise and increased physical activity for addressing mental health issues. particularly depression and anxiety.

"For these, a combination of cardiovascular and aerobic exercise and strength training at moderate to high intensity several times per week appears to be supported by the evidence.

"Exercise appears to improve mental health through social and self-efficacy pathways, as well as biological pathways – such as increasing brain neurotransmitters and improving hormone function involved in mental health."

To download the full report, click here.



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