Researchers from the University of South Australia are urging for exercise to be prioritized as a primary approach to managing depression, as a new study has shown that physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than counseling or leading medications.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is the most extensive to date, covering 97 reviews, 1039 trials, and 128,119 participants.
The study revealed that exercise interventions that lasted 12 weeks or less were the most effective in reducing mental health symptoms.
Physical activity was shown to be beneficial for people with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, healthy individuals, and people with HIV or kidney disease.
Currently, one in every eight people worldwide lives with a mental disorder, and the cost of poor mental health to the global economy is projected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030. In Australia, one in five people has experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months.
Lead researcher Dr. Ben Singh says that physical activity should be prioritized to manage growing mental health conditions, and the study highlights the need for exercise interventions as a mainstay approach for managing depression and anxiety.
The study also showed that higher-intensity exercise had more significant improvements for depression and anxiety, while longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts. However, the research demonstrated that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercises like walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga.
Senior researcher UniSA's Prof Carol Maher, stressed that the study is the first to evaluate the effects of all types of physical activity on depression, anxiety, and psychological distress in all adult populations. She emphasized that examining these studies is an effective way for clinicians to easily understand the evidence supporting physical activity in managing mental health disorders.
Dr. Singh concluded that physical activity has been proven to help improve mental health, yet it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment. He hopes their review will encourage healthcare professionals to prioritize physical activity as a mainstay approach to managing depression and anxiety.
The study's findings are significant, especially given the increasing prevalence of mental health conditions worldwide. By prioritizing exercise interventions as a primary approach, we can potentially reduce the burden of mental health disorders and improve millions of people's overall quality of life.