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Exercise Can Ease Depression, But More Research Needed

Exercise Helps Depression, But More Research Needed A new review of published literature provides evidence that exercise does help to reduce symptoms of depression, though more quality research is needed to determine the true impact of the intervention.

The systematic review has been published in The Cochrane Library.

Experts note that worldwide, more than 120 million people suffer from depression. Antidepressants and psychological therapies are recommended as effective treatments for depression.

However, antidepressants have side effects and some people prefer not to receive, or may not have access to, psychological therapies.

Physical exercise is also used as a treatment for depression. Physiologically, exercise may help to change hormone levels that affect mood or provide a distraction from negative thoughts.

The previous version of the Cochrane review found only limited evidence of benefit for exercise in depression. However, more trials have now been completed, leading researchers to carry out a further update.

Altogether, they reviewed the results of 39 trials involving 2,326 people diagnosed with depression. The severity of patients’ symptoms was assessed using standard scales of depression.

In 35 trials comparing exercise with control treatments or no treatment, the researchers saw moderate benefits of exercise for treating depression.

Exercise was as effective as psychological therapy or taking antidepressants, although these findings were based on only a few, small, low quality trials.

“Our review suggested that exercise might have a moderate effect on depression,” said one of the authors of the review, Dr. Gillian Mead of the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, UK.

“We can’t tell from currently available evidence which kinds of exercise regimes are most effective or whether the benefits continue after a patient stops their exercise program.”

Performing research on individuals with depression is not easy. For example, it is difficult to conceal which patients have been allocated to treatment groups, and which have been allocated to control or no treatment groups.

Therefore, the researchers carried out a separate analysis focusing on the high quality trials. In these six trials, the effect of exercise was weaker.

“When we looked only at those trials that we considered to be high quality, the effect of exercise on depression was small and not statistically significant,” said Mead. “The evidence base would be strengthened by further large-scale, high quality studies.”

Source: Wiley

Man on a stationary bike photo by shutterstock.

Exercise Can Ease Depression, But More Research Needed

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Exercise Can Ease Depression, But More Research Needed. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 13 Sep 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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