Exercise Is Top Treatment for Depression, Anxiety: Study

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Feb. 27, 2023 – Exercise can be more effective than therapy or medication when treating depression and anxiety, according to researchers in Australia.

People in a study who engaged in physical activity routines for up to 12 weeks were 1.5 times more likely to see improvement in depression, anxiety, or psychological distress compared to people who were treated with therapy or leading medications. The findings should encourage medical providers to look to physical activity as a first treatment option, the researchers suggest.

“Higher intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, while longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts,” says researcher Ben Singh, PhD, in a statement. “We also found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercise such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga.” 

The study was published this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers evaluated data from more than 1,000 previous studies with a combined 128,119 people. 

They found that the greatest benefits of exercise on mental health were among people with depression, HIV, or kidney disease. People who were pregnant or who were in the postpartum period also were very likely to experience mental health improvements from exercise.

"The research shows that it doesn’t take much for exercise to make a positive change to your mental health,” Singh says. 

As many as 1 in 8 people worldwide have a mental disorder, according to the World Health Organization