Is Regular Exercise the New Anti-Depressant?

Man and woman exercising | Image by Ground Picture/Shutterstock

New research out of Australia has found that regular exercise might stave off depression twice as well as anti-depressants.

Headed by a team at the University of Queensland in Australia, a study comparing the effect of exercise on depression found that walking, jogging, and yoga at least two times a week significantly improved symptoms among participants. The results were published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal on February 14.

In the United States, depression affects an estimated 21 million adults and 3.7 million youths between the ages of 12 and 17, according to Mental Health America. With around 65% never seeking treatment, the risk of obesity, alcoholism, substance abuse, premature death from medical conditions, and suicidal feelings increases.

Obesity, which is a raging public health problem in the United States, heightens the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression. However, research suggests that obesity and social isolation together can significantly increase mortality risks, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

While there are many ways to treat depression, the prescription of anti-depressants is common. Yet they are associated with several undesirable side effects, such as digestive issues, headaches, and sexual dysfunction, and they do not work for everyone.

Honing in on the actual dampening effects of anti-depressants, therapy, and different types of exercise, the recent study looked at 14,170 people diagnosed with major depression disorder across 218 diverse trials. Researchers found that walking or jogging relieved depression symptoms by 63%, whereas taking anti-depressants saw just a 26% improvement.

Overall, the more vigorous the exercise, the more pronounced the impact on depression. As such, some forms of exercise, such as strength training, tai chi, and cycling, did not perform as well as others in curbing symptoms yet continued to do better than anti-depressants alone.

While there was little variance related to participants’ baseline depression severity or other health issues, some occurred in terms of their age and sex. For instance, men and the elderly saw the most benefits from yoga compared to women. Meanwhile, weightlifting yielded better results in women and younger people than it did in men.

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