Exercise Treats Depression as Well as Therapy, Study Says

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Feb. 15, 2024 -- Many common forms of exercise are as strong as therapy in treating depression, a new study says. 

In the study presented in The BMJ, researchers reported that walking, yoga, jogging, and strength training were the most effective exercises, especially if they were performed intensely. 

“These forms of exercise could be considered alongside psychotherapy and antidepressants as core treatments for depression,” wrote study authors. 

Depression is a leading cause of disability around the world, the authors said. It lowers life satisfaction more than debt, divorce, and diabetes. It also worsens diseases such as heart disease, anxiety, and cancer.

Many people respond well to drugs and psychotherapy. However, some people have depression that is resistant to medication or have limited access to medications. About half the people who have depression seek treatment.

Researchers analyzed data from 218 studies on depression and exercise involving some 14,000 people. 

While there was risk for bias in the studies, the whole-body benefits of exercise, paired with data to suggest that it helps with depression, make for a strong treatment option, said Michael Noetel of the University of Queensland in Australia, the study’s lead author, on CNN.com.

Previous studies have made similar statements about the benefits of exercise, Adam Chekroud of the Yale School of Medicine, told CNN. He was not involved in this study.

Chekroud said that exercise is a good approach to treating depression, along with other options, including therapy and medication.

“None of these treatments are silver bullets. But, given how debilitating it is to have depression, almost all patients should be offered both exercise and therapy,” Noetel said.

“The study found that more exercise and a higher intensity of workout were better, but you don’t need to start out training like a professional athlete,” CNN reported. “The intensity of the exercise made the biggest difference.”