These 4 exercises can reduce depression, study finds

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Exercise has emerged as a promising strategy for managing depression, based on a recent review published in The BMJ.

This research suggests that physical activities like walking, jogging, yoga, and strength training can significantly ease symptoms of depression.

These findings are especially relevant considering over 300 million people globally are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization.

The review highlights that even gentle activities such as walking or yoga can offer benefits, but more intense exercises tend to yield greater improvements.

This suggests a potential for exercises to be used alongside traditional treatments like psychotherapy and medication as foundational approaches to combating depression.

Researchers conducted a thorough analysis, reviewing 218 trials involving 14,170 participants, to compare the effectiveness of exercise against other treatments for depression, including SSRI antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy.

They aimed to resolve the ongoing debate on how exercise should be prescribed to treat depression effectively.

The study uncovered that activities ranging from dance to strength training and mixed aerobic exercises, including tai chi or qigong, significantly reduced depression symptoms compared to less active controls.

Notably, combining exercise with SSRIs or incorporating aerobic exercise into psychotherapy sessions appeared to enhance the benefits, indicating that exercise can complement established depression treatments.

Interestingly, the review found differences in how certain exercises affected various demographics. For instance, strength training showed more effectiveness in women, while yoga or qigong was more beneficial for men.

Age also played a role, with yoga being particularly effective for older adults and strength training favoring younger individuals. However, vigorous exercises such as running and interval training offered the most substantial benefits across the board.

Exercise proved beneficial for people regardless of their health status or the severity of their depression symptoms, with both individual and group settings showing similar effectiveness.

This inclusivity suggests that exercise can be a versatile tool in managing depression.

Despite these promising findings, the authors caution that the quality of evidence is still low, with few studies tracking long-term effects.

They also acknowledge the potential barriers to exercise for those with depression, such as physical, psychological, or social challenges.

Yet, the review posits that exercise’s positive impacts might stem from a combination of social interaction, mindfulness, and the benefits of being in green spaces. This multifaceted approach could explain why physical activity helps alleviate depression symptoms.

The researchers advocate for incorporating exercise into clinical guidelines for treating depression, emphasizing the value of vigorous-intensity activities.

They suggest that health systems consider offering exercise options as alternative or supplementary treatments to traditional methods, thereby also addressing physical health risks associated with depression.

In support of these findings, an editorial linked to the study calls for primary care clinicians to recommend exercise, alongside psychotherapy or antidepressants, as viable options for adults with mild to moderate depression.

However, it notes the challenges in adopting regular exercise for individuals with depression and stresses the need for real-world studies to evaluate physical activity programs tailored to this group’s needs.

The European Union’s commitment to promoting exercise across member states underscores the importance of making personalized and supervised exercise programs accessible to all, reflecting a growing recognition of physical activity’s role in mental health management.

If you care about mental health, please read studies about 6 foods you can eat to improve mental health, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and results showing Omega-3 fats may help reduce depression.

The research findings can be found in The BMJ.

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