In a study from the University of South Australia, scientists found physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than counseling or the leading medications in treating depression.
They are calling for exercise to be a mainstay approach for managing depression.
The current review is the most comprehensive to date, encompassing 97 reviews, 1,039 trials and 128,119 participants.
The team found that physical activity is extremely beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress.
Specifically, the review showed that exercise interventions that were 12 weeks or shorter were most effective at reducing mental health symptoms, highlighting the speed at which physical activity can make a change.
The largest benefits were seen among people with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, healthy individuals, and people diagnosed with HIV or kidney disease.
According to the World Health Organization, one in every eight people worldwide (970 million people) lives with a mental disease.
Poor mental health costs the world economy approximately $2.5 trillion each year, a cost projected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030.
In Australia, an estimated one in five people (aged 16–85) has experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months.
The team says physical activity must be prioritized to better manage the growing cases of mental health conditions.
The study shows that physical activity interventions can strongly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all participants, with some groups showing even greater signs of improvement.
Higher-intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, while longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts.
The team also found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercises such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga.
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The study was conducted by Dr. Ben Singh et al and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
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