A recent study has shown that exercise improves the physical and psychological quality of life in people suffering with depression. Whilst exercise is considered to be a good anti-depressant for depression, little research has been conducted into its effect on the different domains of Quality of Life (QoL).
Depression is a chronic condition that has a huge impact on an individual’s physical and mental health which inevitably impacts their QoL.
The WHOQOL Group define QoL as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live, and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.”
Due to this association between depression and a poor QoL, Schuch and colleagues decided to review research that has investigated this relationship in people with depression. Participants would need to have scored themselves on various physical and psychological domains including: activities of daily living, energy and fatigue, mobility pain and discomfort, work capacity, bodily image, feelings, self-esteem, learning and memory to name a few.
Pharmacological treatments aim to reduce the symptoms of depression, however there are still reports of impairment with regards to an individual’s QoL and the domains listed above. With the benefits of exercise shown in many studies the researchers reviewed several studies whereby exercise effects were analyzed against QoL domains. The individuals in these studies were adults with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) or dysthymia (a disorder within the depressive disorder spectrum). These people then took part in physical activity and a QoL assessment as part of the research, with their results compared to a non-active control group who completed the QoL assessment and suffered with depression.
The findings showed that those in the exercise group had improved physical and psychological domains and overall QoL. However such effects were not seen on social relationship and environment attributes.
When considering the control group there were no noticeable improvements on any domain or overall QoL. The lack of improvement for the control group and the improvement seen with the exercise group, suggests exercise is an effective strategy in improving the physical and psychological wellbeing of an individual who suffers from depression whilst also having benefits to their overall QoL.
Schuch and colleagues concluded by saying that this study shows the importance of not relying of pharmacological treatments as a sole treatment for depression. While there are clear benefits to pharmacological treatments, they are not sufficient as they don’t appear to improve QoL. This means that other strategies to combat low levels of QoL in people with depression are needed and here we can see exercise provides one.
The researchers suggested areas for improvement in future research within this area. They claimed there is a need for the design of exercise tests to be improved when examining the QoL of people with depression. This would help evaluate the impact of different exercise characteristics such as group or individualized sessions and sample characteristics such as gender and depression severity on the overall and domain QoL. Further comparisons with antidepressant medication in such research need to be made. This study appears online in the Psychiatry Research Journal.
Schuch, F, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaume, S., Richards, J., Warde, P, B., Stubbs, B. 2016. Exercise improves physical and psychological quality of life in people with depression: A meta-analysis including the evaluation of control group response. Psychiatry Research, 241, 47-54.
The WHOQOL Group. 1995. The World Health Organization Quality of Life assessment (WHOQOL): position paper from the World Health Organization. Soc. Sci. Med. 41 (10), 1403–1409.