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Exercise as an Effective Treatment for Depression: Insights from a Comprehensive Review

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Ayanna Amadi
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Exercise as an Effective Treatment for Depression: Insights from a Comprehensive Review

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Depression, a serious mental health condition affecting millions worldwide, is typically treated with psychotherapy and antidepressants. However, a recent review published in The BMJ suggests an additional treatment option that is accessible, affordable, and has numerous other health benefits - exercise. According to the review, conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, exercise, particularly when it is intense, can be an effective treatment for depression.

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The Study and Its Findings

The review, which analysed 218 unique studies involving 14,170 participants, aimed to identify the optimal dose and modality of exercise for treating major depressive disorder. The findings suggest that walking or jogging, yoga, strength training, mixed aerobic exercises, and tai chi or qigong can lead to moderate reductions in depression compared with active controls. The impact of exercise was found to be proportional to its intensity, making vigorous exercise particularly beneficial.

Walking, Jogging, and Yoga: Effective Treatments

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Of the exercises studied, walking, jogging, yoga, and strength training were found to be more effective than other forms of exercise in treating depression. This evidence, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that while low-intensity exercise can be helpful, vigorous activity tends to bring even more substantial benefits.

Acceptability of Exercise Modalities

The most acceptable forms of exercise, as indicated by the study, were strength training and yoga. This makes them ideal candidates for inclusion in a holistic treatment plan for depression. However, the study also found that participation rates in high-intensity activities such as sport and gym classes are generally low, highlighting the need for better promotion and accessibility of these activities.

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Exercise: A Core Treatment for Depression

Given the findings of the review, exercise could be considered alongside psychotherapy and antidepressants as core treatments for depression. The researchers specifically suggested that these forms of exercise could be beneficial when prescribed in a targeted manner, taking into account the patient's individual needs and preferences.

Limitations and Recommendations

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While the review's findings are encouraging, it's important to note that the effectiveness of exercise as a treatment may vary depending on the severity of an individual's depression. Additionally, only one study met the Cochrane criteria for low risk of bias. Therefore, further research is needed to better understand how exercise works for depression and to increase people's willingness to consider it as a treatment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the review underscores the potential of exercise as a viable treatment for depression. While more research is undoubtedly needed, the existing evidence supports the inclusion of exercise in clinical practice guidelines for depression, particularly vigorous intensity exercise. Health professionals and patients alike should seriously consider exercise as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for depression.

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