- It’s one of the worst things for someone’s wellbeing – worse than debt, divorce or diabetes.
- Our new research shows that exercise should be considered alongside therapy and antidepressants.
- It can be just as impactful in treating depression as therapy, but it matters what type of exercise you do and how you do it.
Walk, run, lift, or dance away depression
- We found walking, running, strength training, yoga and mixed aerobic exercise were about as effective as cognitive behaviour therapy – one of the gold-standard treatments for depression.
- And of course, anyone getting treatment for depression should talk to their doctor before changing what they are doing.
- Still, our evidence shows that if you have depression, you should get a psychologist and an exercise plan, whether or not you’re taking antidepressants.
Join a program and go hard (with support)
- Programs with clear structure worked better, compared with those that gave people lots of freedom.
- Exercising by yourself might also make it hard to set the bar at the right level, given low self-esteem is a symptom of depression.
- It also didn’t really matter how long the exercise program lasted.
Yes, it’s hard to keep motivated
- Unlike drug trials, participants in exercise trials know which “treatment” they’ve been randomised to receive, so this may skew the results.
- Many people with depression have physical, psychological or social barriers to participating in formal exercise programs.
- We also still don’t know the best way to stay motivated to exercise, which can be even harder if you have depression.
- Our study tried to find out whether things like setting exercise goals helped, but we couldn’t get a clear result.
join a fitness group or yoga studio
get a trainer or an exercise physiologist
ask a friend or family member to go for a walk with you.
Taking a few steps towards getting that support makes it more likely you’ll keep exercising.
Exercise is even more effective than counselling or medication for depression. But how much do you need?
Let’s make this official
- For example, the American Psychological Association only conditionally recommends exercise as a “complementary and alternative treatment” when “psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy is either ineffective or unacceptable”.
- Based on our research, this recommendation is withholding a potent treatment from many people who need it.
Michael Noetel receives funding from the Australian Research Council, the Medical Research Future Fund, Sport Australia, and the National Health and Medical Research Council. He is a director of Effective Altruism Australia.