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World News | Exercise more effective than counseling or medication for depression. But how much do you need?

The LATAM Airlines plane hit the vehicle on the runway (Image: Twitter / @AirCrash_)

SYDNEY, March 2 (Dialogue) The world is currently grappling with a mental health crisis, with millions reporting depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. According to recent estimates, nearly half of all Australians will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.

Mental health disorders impose enormous costs on individuals and society, with depression and anxiety among the leading causes of health-related disease burden.

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The COVID pandemic is exacerbating this situation, with a significant increase in rates of psychological distress affecting one in three people.

While traditional treatments such as therapy and medication may be effective, our new research highlights the importance of exercise in managing these diseases.

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Our recent study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, reviewed more than 1,000 research trials examining the effects of physical activity on depression, anxiety and psychological distress. It shows that exercise is an effective treatment for mental health problems — even more so than medication or counseling.

harder, faster, stronger

We reviewed 97 review papers involving 1,039 trials with 128,119 participants. We found that doing 150 minutes per week of various types of physical activity (such as brisk walking, weightlifting, and yoga) significantly reduced depression, anxiety, and psychological distress compared with usual care (such as medication).

Depressed patients, patients with HIV, patients with kidney disease, pregnant and postpartum women, and healthy individuals showed the greatest improvement (as self-reported by participants), although benefits were apparent across all groups.

We found that the more intense the exercise, the more beneficial it was. For example, walk at a brisk pace instead of your normal pace. The benefits of exercising for 6 to 12 weeks are greatest, not for shorter periods of time. Long-term exercise is important to maintain improvements in mental health.

How effective? When comparing the size of the benefits of exercise with other common mental health treatments in previous systematic reviews, our findings suggest that exercise is about 1.5 times more effective than medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.

In addition, exercise has other benefits compared to drug therapy, such as lower costs, fewer side effects, and additional physical health benefits, such as a healthier weight, improved cardiovascular and bone health, and cognitive benefits.

why it works

Exercise is thought to affect mental health through multiple pathways, with both short-term and long-term effects. Immediately after exercise, the brain releases endorphins and dopamine.

In the short term, this can help improve mood and relieve stress. In the long run, the release of neurotransmitters after exercise promotes changes in the brain that can aid mood and cognition, reduce inflammation, and boost immune function, all of which affect our brain function and mental health.

Regular exercise can improve sleep, which plays a vital role in depression and anxiety. It also has psychological benefits, such as increased self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, all of which are beneficial for those battling depression.

Not such an “alternative” treatment

The findings highlight the critical role of exercise in managing depression, anxiety and psychological distress.

Some clinical guidelines already acknowledge the role of exercise—for example, clinical guidelines in Australia and New Zealand recommend medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes such as exercise.

However, other major bodies, such as the American Psychological Association’s Clinical Practice Guidelines, emphasize only medication and psychotherapy, and list exercise as an “alternative” treatment — the same category as treatments like acupuncture. While the label “alternative” can mean many things in terms of treatment, it often suggests it’s outside of conventional medicine, or doesn’t have a clear evidence base. None of this is true as far as the mental health movement is concerned.

Even in Australia, medication and psychotherapy tend to be more prevalent than exercise. This may be because exercise is difficult to prescribe and monitor in a clinical setting. Patients may resist because they feel low energy or low motivation.

But don’t “go it alone”

It’s important to note that while exercise can be an effective tool for managing a mental health condition, people with a mental health condition should work with a health professional on a comprehensive treatment plan rather than adopting new exercise modalities alone.

A treatment plan may include a combination of lifestyle approaches, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and socializing, as well as psychotherapy and medication.

But exercising shouldn’t be viewed as a “nice to have” option. It’s a powerful and easy-to-use tool for managing mental health conditions – and the best part is, it’s free and has tons of added health benefits. (dialogue)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)

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