"The evidence of the use of physical activity and exercise for the management of depression is substantial and growing fast," said Felipe Barreto Schuch of the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil and Brendon Stubbs of King's College London, the authors of the article.
However, even with substantial evidence supporting the positive effects of exercise on depression management, Schuch says its inclusion as a key component in treatment options is often given low priority.
Depression is a significant medical issue around the world. It has a huge impact on the mental and physical well-being of people and incurs significant expenses for society. Current treatments center around medication and psychotherapy, both of which have significant limitations. For instance, not all individuals taking antidepressants have a clinically significant reaction, and not all patients respond well to psychotherapy. Therefore, the researchers decided to provide an updated overview of the mounting evidence supporting the advantages of incorporating exercise into treatments for depression.
"[T]here is growing recognition that lifestyle behaviors, such as physical activity and exercise, partially contribute to the risk of developing depression and can be useful strategies for treating depression, reducing depressive symptoms, improving quality of life, and improving health outcomes," the researchers wrote.
Previous studies have linked higher levels of physical activity to reduced depressive symptoms. Analyzing pooled data from 49 prospective studies with nearly 267,000 participants, the researchers found that exercise could reduce the odds of developing depression by 17 percent. Furthermore, the protective effect was significant in all countries and across patient subgroups.
Exercise can also be used as a natural treatment for depression. Studies have shown that a single exercise session can reduce the symptoms of major depressive disorder.
The researchers analyzed 25 randomized trials involving nearly 1,500 people with depression who were assigned to exercise training or comparison groups. The results showed that the participants who exercised experienced a "very large and significant antidepressant effect." (Related: Exercise outperforms antidepressants for reducing depression.)
Despite the increasing evidence supporting the positive effects of exercise on depressive symptoms, it still isn't part of clinical recommendations for treating the mental disorder. The researchers consider this an "issue" that must be addressed in order to move forward with better treatment options and preventative measures.
In people with depression, starting and sticking to an exercise program can be challenging. Besides supervision by health and fitness professionals, support from friends and family may also increase their chance of success.
In general, regular exercise helps ease depressive symptoms by:
Exercise may not be similarly viable as a treatment for every person with depression. There is a wide scope of biological, clinical, psychological and social factors that can affect a person's response to exercise therapy. It is important to take each of these factors into account so that individuals can be matched with the appropriate treatment option.
Learn more about the role of exercise in relieving depression at BeatDepression.news.