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30 Mar 2023

Exercise is 'highly beneficial' in maintaining mental health
BY Frances Marcellin

Physical activity has been clinically proven to improve mental health

Physical activity has been clinically proven to improve mental health
photo: Shutterstock/Rafinaded

Physical activity should be a “mainstay approach” for doctors treating patients with depression, anxiety and psychological distress. This is the evidenced-based conclusion published in a recent study from the University of South Australia, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which was devised to help doctors improve management of patients with mental health disorders.

The researchers wanted to provide physicians with one body of evidence that amalgamated all previous studies, to prove the link between physical activity and its effective treatment of mental health disorders. Overall, they analysed 97 reviews – including 1,039 trials and 128,119 patients – from eligible studies published from inception to 1 January 2022.

The team said that previous research trials suggested that physical activity may have similar effects to psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for patients with depression, anxiety or psychological distress. However, as different forms and doses of physical activity have been included, it was “difficult for clinicians to understand the body of evidence for physical activity in the management of mental health disorders”.

Ultimately, the findings showed that physical activity is “highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress”.

When exercise was done at a greater intensity, symptoms improved even further, but the effectiveness, although still notable, was not as marked when exercise was less intense and of a longer duration.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), in 2019 one in eight people lived with a mental health disorder – around 970 million – with the pandemic causing anxiety and depressive disorders to rise by 26 per cent and 28 per cent respectively.

“In conclusion, physical activity is effective for improving depression and anxiety across a very wide range of populations,” read the study. “Physical activity should be a mainstay approach in the management of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.”

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