Exercise Is Useless for Depression- True or False?

Ever since a research study was converted to layman-friendly version and presented in ways that portrayed ‘exercise doesn’t help in treating depression’, there’s been quite a stir. It created a sense of doubt in a lot of people despite the fact that the research didn’t even study the effects of exercise on depression specifically. This article aims to break down what actually the research was about. We also discuss a number of older studies that were done to find out the effect of exercise on depression.

The BMJ Study

A study was conducted by BMJ study researchers at University of Bristol, Exeter, and the Peninsula. This study designed an intervention called TREAD- TREAtment of Depression with physical activity. The study involved 361 participants including experimental group (the one on which TREAD was applied) and control group (the one on which TREAD was not applied). They were divided into these two groups randomly.

The participants were the ones who were diagnosed with depression recently and fell under the age group of 18-69. The study period extended up to 12 months, where the measures were taken at an equal interval of 4 months. The instrument used to measure their depression was Beck Depression Inventory and an interview wherein the participants were supposed to talk about their antidepressant usage. Besides exercises tailored for individuals, the participants were also free to take up counseling and antidepressants. The participants also filled a diary everyday about their exercise routine, which had an accurate measure of the accelerometers.

The catch in this study was that while the patients were given the option of taking up the exercises as prescribed by the GP, only a few were motivated to do the exercises. Another point was that while this research just combined exercise to other ways of treatments, like medicines and counseling, it did not try to find out the effect of exercise solely on depression.

The findings

The findings of the research were that the experimental group that was given TREAD did not show any significant betterment than the control group. Also, there wasn’t a decrease in the usage of antidepressants by the experimental group. This finally led the researches to conclude that the addition of facilitated exercises along with usual care does not improve the outcome for depression treatment.

Despite the findings, one thing that researchers reported was that the experimental group participants who followed TREAD reported increased physical activity both during the follow-up and post study.

As opposed to how the findings were portrayed in the media version, the researches never concluded that exercise is useless for depression. It moreover would help the healthcare professionals to choose best of exercises for individual needs.

Melanie Chalder, the lead author from University of Bristol even stated that a number of findings suggest that physical activity has positive effects for people suffering from depression. She also added that the intervention used in her study wasn’t an effective strategy to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Not only that, when people were alleviated from their depressions, it lead to overall improvements in all areas of their life including their sex lives. It is estimated that at least 10-15% of men who buy Viagra and Cialis, could do without, if they worked on the other aspects of their health.

Furthermore, she mentioned that physical activity is of great help for people who suffer from certain conditions, like obesity and diabetes. A lot of people have depression associated with these conditions which can be reduced through physical activities.

Will the BMJ study cause a change in guidelines?

NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) has set the guidelines that people who are diagnosed with mild to moderate depression should undergo group-based physical activity programs under the guidance of a facilitator keeping in mind the person’s preference as well. The physical exercise session should be carried out thrice a week for 45 minutes to an hour for about 10 to 14 weeks. These guidelines were revised so in 2009 and remain the same till today.

The current concern is whether the BMJ study would question the current guidelines. However, it is unlikely to happen. Bazian, a group that assesses healthcare related research findings states that BMJ study only used one kind of exercise intervention. This doesn’t show how other exercises can prove helpful in dealing with depression.

While the BMJ study created quite a stir, many older researches are being scrutinized and many newer researches are coming up to specifically study the effects of different kinds of exercises on depression.

To Conclude…

Exercise is an inexpensive means of dealing with depression. Along with being helpful in reducing depression, it also has a number of added benefits. Experts are going with the idea that physical activity and exercises are beneficial in treating depression. After exercising, there is a release of hormones and neurotransmitters that promote a better mood in people. This is how it helps dealing with depression in a longer run.

Various research teams and institutes have made it a point to look into the benefits more specifically. This will help craft the best kind of workout routine for depression patients to get best of outcomes.

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