In a new study, researchers found exercise training and increased physical activity are effective for both the prevention and treatment of depression.
The research was conducted by a team from King’s College London and other institutes.
Depression is a major health problem worldwide, with a big impact on mental and physical health for patients and high costs for society.
Current treatments focus on antidepressant mediations and psychotherapy, each of which can help people but have limitations.
For example, only about 50% of people taking antidepressants will have better health outcomes, and not all people will respond to psychotherapy.
There is growing recognition that lifestyle behaviors, such as a sedentary lifestyle may partially contribute to the risk of depression.
Exercise can be useful strategies for treating depression, reducing depressive symptoms, improving quality of life, and improving health outcomes.
Despite this substantial evidence, the incorporation of exercise as a key component in treatment is often given a low priority.
In the study, the team reviewed data from 49 studies including nearly 267,000 participants.
They found physical activity reduces the risk of developing depression by 17%. The protective effect was strong in all countries and across patient subgroups.
They also found physical activity is an effective treatment for depression.
Some studies have shown that a single exercise session can reduce symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder.
The researchers did another review of 25 studies in which nearly 1,500 people with depression were assigned to exercise training or comparison groups.
The results suggested a very large and strong antidepressant effect of exercise.
These findings provide an updated overview of the growing evidence on the benefits of exercise for depression.
But the team also say exercise may not be equally effective for all patients.
Many biological, clinical, psychological, and social factors affect the response to exercise therapy for depression.
In addition, starting and sustaining an exercise program can be challenging for people with depression.
Some reports have suggested that the key to successful exercise therapy for depression is “autonomous motivation”: physical activity should be as enjoyable as possible, leading people to exercise for its own sake.
Supervision by health and fitness professionals or social support from friends and family may also increase the chances of success.
The lead authors of the study are Felipe Barretto Schuch, Ph.D. and Brendon Stubbs, Ph.D.
The study is published in Current Sports Medicine Reports.
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