By Dr Greg Rowsell
I am frequently asked if exercise is a beneficial treatment modality for people with depression. And my somewhat cheeky answer is, only if you want to feel better! You might be thinking that of course I would say that because that’s my job, I prescribe exercise to help people feel better. And yes, that’s exactly the point but there’s a lot more to the story. Allow me to explain.
It is certainly true that I am highly motivated to help people feel better. It’s also true that I use my expertise in exercise prescription to help people feel better. However, the truth is that almost no one ever has said, ooh I’m so happy that I’ve increased my endurance capacity, or I can lift xyz kilos more! What they do frequently say though is, I feel so much happier and I feel so much better in myself. And what I’m anecdotally reporting is also borne out by the research.
For example, a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research examined the benefits of exercise as a treatment for depression. Schuch et al., (2016) analysed the results of 25 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of exercise interventions of people with depression. The RCTs compared exercise versus control comparison groups, and nine of the RCTs examined participants with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Interestingly, larger effect sizes were found for interventions in MDD supervised by exercise professionals.
Schuch et al., (2016) concluded that exercise has a large and significant antidepressant effect in people with depression (including MDD). Their data strongly support the claim that exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression.