Most effective exercises to treat depression

A study published in The BMJ says walking, jogging, yoga, strength training and dancing are the most effective exercises to treat depression, especially when intense. These exercises alleviate symptoms both alone or when combined with established treatments such as medications and psychotherapy.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide have depression, a leading cause of disability. While exercise is often recommended, there is no consensus on how to prescribe exercise to treat depression. To find out, researchers analysed 218 randomised trials involving 14,170 participants with depression that compared exercise with other forms of treatment.

Clinically meaningful benefits were seen when exercise was combined with SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants or psychotherapy, suggesting that working out could be a powerful tool alongside these established treatments. Even though low intensity activities such as walking or yoga were beneficial, greater benefits were seen with more vigorous exercise such as running and interval training.

While walking or jogging helped both men and women, women benefited more from strength training and men from yoga or qigong (a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control related to tai chi), yoga was also more effective for older people. Younger people benefited more from strength training. Exercise was equally effective for people with and without other health conditions and with different levels of depression. Working out alone or in a group had similar benefits.

Our findings support the inclusion of exercise as part of clinical practice guidelines for depression, particularly vigorous intensity exercise,” the study concluded.