Current clinical guidance recommends physical activity to alleviate the symptoms of depression. However, new research published in the BMJ, suggests that adding a physical activity intervention to usual care did not reduce symptoms of depression more than usual care alone, even though it increased levels of physical activity.
Depression is one of the most common reasons for seeking GP help and reportedly affects one in six adults in Britain at any one time. Until now, most of the evidence for the positive effect of physical activity in treating depression has originated from studies of small, non-clinical samples using interventions that would not be practicable in an NHS setting.
The TREAD study, led by researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, is the first large-scale, randomised controlled trial to establish whether a physical activity intervention should be used in primary health care to help treat adults with depression.
Researchers recruited 361 patients aged 18-69 years who had recently been diagnosed with depression. Trial participants were then split into two groups to receive either the physical activity intervention in addition to usual care or usual care on its own and were followed up for 12 months to assess any change in their symptoms.
Melanie Chalder, from University of Bristol's School of Social and Community Medicine, said: "Numerous studies have reported the positive effects of physical activity for people suffering with depression but our intervention was not an effective strategy for reducing symptoms. However, it is important to note that increased physical activity is beneficial for people with other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and, of course, these conditions can affect people with depression."