Depression: physical exercises that fight it

LDepression affects millions of people around the world, negatively affecting their lives and well-being. But exercise can be a valuable ally in the fight against depression.

Depression: how to understand when to ask for help

Major depressive disorder is one of the main causes of disability worldwidenegatively impacting life satisfaction more than debt, divorce and diabetes do, and worsening comorbidity such as heart disease, anxiety and cancer. Although many respond well to medications and psychotherapy, some show resistance to treatments. Access to care is limited, with coverage of 51% in high-income countries and only 20% in low- and middle-income countries. It is therefore crucial to expand evidence-based therapies.

Depression: what physical exercises work

Physical exercise emerges as a effective complement or alternative to drugs and psychotherapy, offering mental health benefits and improving physical and cognitive outcomes. US, UK and Australian clinical guidelines include physical activity in the treatment of depression, although they do not provide precise guidance on the dose or type of exercise. British guides suggest group exercise programs it’s a general increase in physical activity. L’American Psychiatric Association recommends any amount of aerobic or resistance exercise. The Australian and New Zealand ones recommend one combination of intense strength and aerobic exercises.

Walking, yoga, Tai Chi and other anti-depression workouts

A recent one meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journalconducted on over 14,000 people, demonstrated that different forms of physical exercise bring significant benefits in reducing depressive symptoms. Activities such as walking, jogging, yoga, strength training, mixed aerobic exercises, tai chi and qigong can help improve well-being.

Exercise intensity proved to be a key factor: the greater the effort, the greater the benefit in terms of reducing depressive symptoms. This means that more challenging workouts can offer better results. Among the different modalities examined, strength training and yoga stood out for their effectiveness and tolerability, being pleasant and less tiring than other options.

Depression: Exercise is an effective treatment

Exercise has been shown to be effective in treating depression for people with mild to severe symptoms. This broadens the application potential of the exercise to a wide range of the population.

Scientific evidence supports exercise as a first-line treatment for depression, on par with psychotherapy and antidepressants. Integrating physical activity into your treatment plan can significantly improve patients’ mental health and quality of life. Even a simple 30-minute walk a day can make a difference. It is recommended to choose an activity that you enjoy and that fits your lifestyle. You will start to feel better and face life with greater energy and positivity.

A multidisciplinary treatment for depression

Research supports the inclusion of exercise in clinical guidelines for depression, particularly highlighting vigorous-intensity exercise to broaden treatment options. Exercise offers an alternative with less stigma and lower costs, especially in low-resource settings. The Ideal treatment should be personalized by a multidisciplinary team.

In conclusion, several types of exercise have proven effective in treating depression, although the certainty of many results is moderate. Preliminary data suggests that the personalized interventions could be useful. L’World Health Organization recommends physical activity for everyone, including those with chronic conditions and disabilities. Low-cost, low-barrier interventions, such as walking and running, are effective for people with different personal characteristics, levels of depression severity, and comorbidities. Health systems could consider these therapies as alternatives or complements to other established therapies, while also reducing the physical health risks associated with depression.

Who are the authors

Gianluca Pistore

Gianluca Pistore

Nicola Marino

With healthcare background, the Doctor Nicola Marino carries out research activities with the Swiss group Women’s Brain Project in the sectors of longevity and artificial intelligence. Already a political consultant on digital health and longevity, Marino is the author of numerous scientific publications. With internship at Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Bostonhe is a member of Scientific Committee of the Italian Association of Digital Health and Telemedicine (AISDET)as well as already a consultant for the American company HealthCatalyst. He has carried out scientific journalism activities for international and national media such as, IlSole24Ore, Corriere Della Sera, Millionaire, Rai1, SkyTG24, to name a few.