Depressed? Exercise can be more effective than meds

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in eight people in the world, i.e., some 970 million people, was living with a mental disorder in 2019. A figure that soared by 26% to +8% in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, and which has been continually increasing since that time.

“While effective prevention and treatment options exist, most people with mental disorders do not have access to effective care. Many people also experience stigma, discrimination and violations of human rights,” outlines the WHO.

Physical exercise is a serious option

Researchers at the University of South Australia recently unveiled the results of a large-scale study suggesting that exercise of any kind could be a serious approach to managing depression.

In some cases, physical activity may be more effective than some current treatments for mental disorders, including anxiety and psychological distress.

The research encompasses no less than 97 reviews, 1,039 trials, and more than 128,000 participants.

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM), the study states that “physical activity is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress.”

While all types of physical activity and exercise are beneficial for mental disorders, including walking, yoga, or fitness, it appears that duration and intensity play a role in their effectiveness.

Researchers report that exercise interventions lasting 12 weeks or less were the most effective in relieving mental health symptoms, as were higher intensity exercises.

Looking at a wide range of populations including healthy adults, the study revealed that people suffering from depression, pregnant women, postpartum women, healthy people and people with HIV or kidney disease benefited the most from exercise.

The scientists also state that physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than counseling or medications usually given to combat symptoms of depression.

“Physical activity is known to help improve mental health. Yet, despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment,” says Dr Ben Singh, lead researcher at the University of South Australia.

“We hope this review will underscore the need for physical activity, including structured exercise interventions, as a mainstay approach for managing depression and anxiety,” adds Professor Carol Maher, who also worked on the study.

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