Exercise may be 'more effective' than medicine for managing mental health


Regular exercise has long been considered a key way to support mental health.

Now, researchers from the University of South Australia have claimed physical activity should be a "mainstay approach" for managing symptoms of depression, with review findings showing that exercise is 1.5 times more effective than counselling or leading medications.

"Physical activity is known to help improve mental health. Yet despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment," said Dr Ben Singh. "Our review shows that physical activity interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations, with some groups showing even greater signs of improvement."

For the review, the team looked at information relating to over 1,000 trials and 128,000 participants.

They found that physical activity is extremely beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress.

Specifically, the researchers noted that exercising for just 12 weeks or less could be helpful for reducing mental health symptoms, and that the largest benefits were seen among people with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, healthy individuals, and people diagnosed with HIV or kidney disease.

"Higher intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, while longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts," he continued. "We also found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercise such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga. Importantly, the research shows that it doesn't take much for exercise to make a positive change to your mental health."

Full results have been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.