Researchers from the University of South Australia set out to analyze all evidence on how exercise impacts feelings of depression, anxiety, and emotional stress in adults. Their systematic overview was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and it is the most comprehensive to date. They included 97 review studies, 1,039 randomized trials and nearly 130,000 participants.
Here are the key findings from the overview.
- Physical activity was beneficial in improving symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress.
- Exercise interventions of 12 weeks or shorter were most effective at reducing said symptoms.
- The largest benefits were seen among people with depression, pregnant and postpartum people, healthy individuals, and those diagnosed with HIV or kidney disease.
- Higher-intensity exercise was associated with greater improvements in symptoms.
“Our review shows that physical activity interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations. Higher-intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, while longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts,” said lead author Dr Ben Singh.
It doesn’t take much exercise to enjoy the benefits
The overview also found that the type of physical activity doesn’t matter. You can choose any that you enjoy to experience the above-mentioned benefits to mental health.
“We also found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercises such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga. Importantly, the research shows that it doesn’t take much for exercise to make a positive change to your mental health,” said Singh.
Exercise should be used to manage depression and anxiety
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 970 million people worldwide live with a mental disorder. Poor mental health costs the global economy an estimated $2.5 trillion per year, a figure projected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030. This study provides a strong argument to promote exercise as a key tool for alleviating this issue.
“Physical activity is known to help improve mental health. Yet despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment,” said Singh.
“We hope this review will underscore the need for physical activity, including structured exercise interventions, as a mainstay approach for managing depression and anxiety,” concluded co-author Prof. Carol Maher.