Exercise doesn’t help alleviate depression

Updated: Jun 06, 2012, 17:13 PM IST

London: A study that investigated whether physical activity alleviates the symptoms of depression has found that there is actually no benefit.

Research published in the British Medical Journal suggests that adding a physical activity intervention to usual care did not reduce symptoms of depression more than usual care alone.

This study contrasts with current clinical guidance, which recommends exercise to help those suffering from the mental illness, the Telegraph reported.

Mental illness affects one in six adults in Britain at any one time.

To carry out the study researchers recruited 361 patients aged 18 to 69 years, who had recently been diagnosed suffering with depression.

Trial participants were then split into two groups to receive either the physical activity intervention in addition to usual care, or usual care on its own and were followed up for 12 months to evaluate any change in their symptoms.

But the study discovered that adding exercise failed to alleviate symptoms of depression more than usual care alone, only increasing levels of physical activity.

The study, carried out by teams from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, is the first large-scale, randomized controlled trial to analyse the effects of exercise on depression.

Earlier most of the evidence for the positive effect of physical activity in treating depression has originated from studies of small, non-clinical samples using interventions that would not be practicable in an NHS setting.

“Numerous studies have reported the positive effects of physical activity for people suffering with depression but our intervention was not an effective strategy for reducing symptoms” said Melanie Chalder, of the University of Bristol``s School of Social and Community Medicine.

“However, it is important to note that increased physical activity is beneficial for people with other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and, of course, these conditions can affect people with depression,” she said.

“Many patients suffering from depression would prefer not to have to take traditional anti-depressant medication, preferring instead to consider alternative non-drug based forms of therapy,” said John Campbell, professor of general practice and primary care at Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (University of Exeter)

“Exercise and activity appeared to offer promise as one such treatment, but this carefully designed research study has shown that exercise does not appear to be effective in treating depression.”

This study has been published in the British Medical Journal.