Is physical exercise more effective than medication in fighting depression?

A recent study suggests exercise could be a highly effective way of managing depression.

Exercise is good for physical well-being, but it could also constitute a new therapeutic approach to managing depression, stress, and anxiety.

That’s according to a new study by Australian researchers, who explain that physical activity may even be more effective compared to the usual treatment for such conditions, and this for all populations.

Mental health has become a significant concern, particularly since the Covid-19 outbreak.

The World Health Organisation has reported that around 970 million people, equivalent to one in eight individuals worldwide, experienced a mental disorder in 2019. This figure increased by 26% since the pandemic’s onset in 2020.

Despite the existence of effective prevention and treatment options, most people with mental health issues do not receive adequate care and often face discrimination, stigma, and human rights violations. This is a significant problem that researchers worldwide are working to address to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.

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Physical exercise

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of South Australia has shown that exercise of any type could be a highly effective way of managing depression.

According to the study, physical activity is highly beneficial for reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress, and it can be more effective than some current treatments for mental health disorders.

The research involved an extensive analysis of 97 reviews, 1 039 trials, and over 128 000 participants and was published in the ‘British Journal of Sports Medicine’.

The study found that all types of physical activity and exercise, including walking, yoga, and fitness, were beneficial for managing mental health disorders.

However, the duration and intensity of the exercise played a crucial role in its effectiveness, with interventions lasting 12 weeks or less and higher-intensity exercises being the most effective.

The study also revealed that exercise was highly beneficial for various populations, including healthy adults, people suffering from depression, pregnant women, postpartum women, healthy people, and people with HIV or kidney disease.

The researchers found that physical activity was 1.5 times more effective than counselling or medication for reducing symptoms of depression.

The lead researcher, Dr. Ben Singh, emphasised the need for physical activity, including structured exercise interventions, to be adopted as a first-choice treatment for managing depression and anxiety. Professor Carol Maher, who also worked on the study, hopes that the review will encourage people to consider physical activity as a mainstay approach for managing mental health disorders.

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Is a sedentary lifestyle the other blight of our time?

Sedentary lifestyles are increasingly recognised as a major issue of the 21st century, alongside mental health.

The World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have reported that members of the European Union are not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity, which is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

Failing to meet these physical activity guidelines may lead to 11.5 million new cases of non-communicable diseases by 2050, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

The study’s findings, combined with those of other studies, underscore the importance of adopting an active lifestyle to maintain good physical and mental health.

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