Is exercise actually the most effective antidepressant?

The answer appears to be yes, according to the latest research

A man cycles past flowers.

A regular exercise routine is dynamite for addressing depressive symptoms.

The number of antidepressants has increased by 35% in the past six years.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see so many Americans take a proactive approach to their mental health. SSRIs seem to tinker with so-called “chemical imbalances,” improving neurotransmitter function for serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Still, sometime in the last 15 years, we may have started giving the pills a little too much credit. Here’s some not-so-great data on antidepressants:

  • Only 60% of patients respond positively to antidepressants.
  • Antidepressants can help people improve 9.6 points on a depression scale, but a placebo can help them improve 7.8 points.
  • People with depression don’t actually have less serotonin than people without depression.

That’s not to say SSRIs don’t work, just that some data says they’re about 25% more effective than a Skittle. (Not to mention, they can cause long-term side effects like weight gain or sexual dysfunction.)

To bridge this treatment gap, researchers have begun exploring other options for relief. And somewhat surprisingly, exercise has emerged as a capable alternative.

In two recent studies (one published here, the other here), physical activity has been shown to be 1.5 times more effective than therapy or “leading drugs” in treating depression.

The first report included 97 assessments, including 128,119 participants, and found that “exercise interventions of 12 weeks or less were most effective in reducing mental health symptoms,” suggesting that patients can get their anxiety, fear or depression under control in an issue . of months. And the second report concluded succinctly: “The results show moderate to large effects of exercise on depressive symptoms…[physical activity] should be offered as an evidence-based treatment option.”

Wellness leaders have been insisting for years that exercise is essential to feeling a certain way, rather than looking in a certain way (the conventional, flawed wisdom). But now physical activity also has a legitimate prescriptive tendency.

The authors of these studies came to two encouraging conclusions:

  1. All types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial in limiting depressive symptoms, from walking to weight training to yoga.
  2. It doesn’t take that much exercise (or that much time) to make a positive change in your mental health.

Expect to hear a lot more about “exercise interventions” and “exercise prescriptions” in the near future as physicians, clinical therapists, and personal trainers dismantle their areas of expertise and provide patients with comprehensive getting better blueprints. This is not the end of antidepressants. They still do a lot for a lot of people. However, it can be a wake-up call that they’re not a panacea, and new priorities and routines — as simple as taking a 30-minute walk every day — can be a missing link.

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