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20 Nov 2023

Exercise is '1.5 times more effective than counselling or medication' in treating depression and anxiety
BY Tom Walker

The study found that resistance exercise had the largest effects on depression, while yoga and other mind–body exercises were most effective for reducing anxiety

The study found that resistance exercise had the largest effects on depression, while yoga and other mind–body exercises were most effective for reducing anxiety
photo: Shutterstock.com/WPixz

Physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than counselling or leading medications when it comes to managing and treating mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

The finding comes from research conducted by the University of South Australia (UOSA) in Adelaide, Australia and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

It shows that physical activity was linked to a 43 per cent reduction in mental health symptoms.

Exercise was deemed particularly effective for reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.

A review of data, conducted by UOSA, encompassed 97 reviews, 1,039 trials and 128,119 participants.

It showed that physical activity's positive effects on mental health are similar across a wide range of adult populations, including the general population, people with diagnosed mental health disorders and people with chronic disease.

Among other key findings were that higher intensity physical activity is associated with greater improvements in symptoms.

However, the effectiveness of exercise interventions seems to diminish with longer-duration interventions.

Physical interventions that were 12 weeks or shorter were the most effective at reducing mental health symptoms, highlighting the speed at which physical activity can make a change.

Some methods of exercise were also more effective than others in improving particular conditions.

For example, resistance exercise had the largest effects on depression, while yoga and other mind–body exercises were most effective for reducing anxiety.

According to Lead UOSA researcher, Dr Ben Singh, the result of the research mean that exercise should be adopted as a primary approach for managing mental health issues, such as depression.

“We found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercise such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga,” Singh said.

“We’re confident that if physical activity interventions were adopted, we would see a definite positive impact on symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress.”

To read the full report, click here for the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The benefits of exercise to mental health have been well-documented for decades and the health and fitness industry has consistently made the case for physical activity to be used in treating depression and anxiety.

Evidence of this can be found in previous issues of HCM. In 2005, we reported on a campaign by The Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness about the effectiveness of exercise in preventing and treating mental health problems.

In 2010, a team from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King's College London and academics from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of Bergen found that people who participate in regular physical activity outside work are not as likely to show signs of depression as those who don't.



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