Treatment for depression

Depression is a common debilitating disorder affecting over a 100 million people worldwide. Depression is commonly treated with antidepressants and/or psychological therapy, but, for many people, an alternative approach using exercise can be just as effective.

Can exercise be used as a treatment for depression

Some NHS guidelines suggest that exercise could be used as a different treatment choice and new research (1) suggests that it may in fact be possible to exercise away the symptoms of depression.  But what type of exercise should we do to maximise the positive effect on depression?


Which types of exercise reduce depression

A new research study (1) critically reviewed 11 previous studies analysing the effects of exercise on adults with clinical depression. The studies included over 455 adults who were treated with various types of aerobic exercises such as cycling, swimming, and jogging. The sessions were supervised, with the frequency and length of sessions typically being the same as a moderate type of work-out routine. The reviewers concluded that aerobic exercise is more effective in reducing symptoms of depression than other interventions.

Supporting this current research, an earlier study (2), found that aerobic exercise at a moderate dose, consistent with public health recommendations, is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.

Eighty adult participants were randomised to one of four aerobic exercise treatment groups that varied total energy expenditure (7.0 kcal/kg/week or 17.5 kcal/kg/week) and exercise frequency (3 days/week or 5 days/week) or to exercise placebo control (3 days/week flexibility exercise).

Exercise prescription for depression -take home message

For aerobic exercise to have a positive effect on depression you should try to exercise at a moderate rate for 30 minutes 5 times a week, or 50 minutes 3 times a week. Moderate rate activity can include hiking, pushing a lawn mower, brisk walking or cycling.



(1) Schuch, F., Morres, I., Ekkekakis, P., Rosenbaum, S., & Stubbs, B. (2017). A critical review of exercise as a treatment for clinically depressed adults: Time to get pragmatic. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 29(2), 65-71. doi:10.1017/neu.2016.21

 (2) Madhukar H.Trivedi, James B.Kampert, cCamillia G.Clark, Heather O.Chambliss, Madhukar H.Trivedi, James B.Kampert, Camillia G.Clark, Heather O.Chambliss (2005) Exercise treatment for depression: Efficacy and dose response American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28 (1), Pages 1-8.

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