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| 1 minute read

The Best Medicine for Depression is Exercise

Depression among young people has become a serious problem, particularly during and after the COVID lockdowns. The good news is that a survey of international studies has shown that exercise can be one of the most effective treatments for alleviating depression. 

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal analyzed 218 studies from around the world with more than 14,000 participants. The meta-analysis found a dose-response association between exercise intensity and greater effectiveness in reducing depressive symptoms. In other words, the more intense the exercise, the more beneficial it  was in combating depression. However, even low-intensity exercises, such as walking and yoga, also showed measurable and meaningful benefits.

Many of the studies included participants in their late teens, and the analysis revealed the most benefit for young people from in rigorous exercise involving aerobic activity. Other activities also showed benefits, although not as great as those for older participants.

The study also compared the effect of exercise to other treatment options. It found that the effect of exercise was comparable to that of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is considered a gold standard treatment for depression. However, the quality of evidence supporting CBT was higher, indicating a need for more research into the benefits of exercise for mental health.

Furthermore, the analysis suggested that exercise could have a superior effect to antidepressant medication alone. In fact, when exercise was combined with antidepressants, the effect of the drugs improved. This highlights the importance of considering exercise as a complementary treatment option for depression, especially for young people for whom reliance on medication can become problematic.

In conclusion, exercise has emerged as a powerful tool for alleviating depression, particularly among young people. It not only offers meaningful benefits both at low intensities and more rigorous activity.  Youth organizations that make room for vigorous activity (such as bringing back recess) can offer significant help to youth people struggling with depression.

Overall, a dose-response association was found between exercise intensity and greater effectiveness, but even low intensity exercises such as walking and yoga conferred meaningful benefit. . . .The effect size of exercise was comparable to that of cognitive behavioural therapy, but the quality of evidence supporting such therapy was higher. The effect of exercise appeared superior to antidepressants, although when exercise was combined with antidepressants, the effect of the drugs improved.


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