Exercise may benefit people suffering from depression, according to an updated systematic review published in The Cochrane Library. The authors of the review found evidence to suggest that exercise reduces symptoms of depression, although they say more high quality trials are needed.
Worldwide, more than 120 million people suffer from depression. Antidepressants and psychological therapies are recommended as effective treatments for depression. However, antidepressants have side-effects and some people prefer not to receive, or may not have access to, psychological therapies. Physical exercise is also used as a treatment for depression. There are a number of reasons why it might work such as changing hormone levels that affect mood or providing a distraction from negative thoughts.
The previous version of the Cochrane review found only limited evidence of benefit for exercise in depression. However, more trials have now been completed, leading researchers to carry out a further update. Altogether, they reviewed the results of 39 trials involving 2,326 people diagnosed with depression. The severity of patients’ symptoms was assessed using standard scales of depression.
In 35 trials comparing exercise with control treatments or no treatment, the researchers saw moderate benefits of exercise for treating depression. Exercise was as effective as psychological therapy or taking antidepressants, although these findings were based on only a few, small, low quality trials.