“Exercise can help people recover from depression and prevent them from becoming depressed in the first place.” NHS Choices
“Endurance exercise may help to achieve substantial improvement in the mood of selected patients with major depression in a short time.” Knubben et al (2007) Br J Sports Med 2007;41:29–33. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2006.030130
In the last decade, the medical community as a whole has come to appreciate that regular exercise can be a real and effective way to deal with mild depression. The Mental Health Foundation did a survey of English GPs that found 56% of them thought that a programme of exercise was ‘quite effective’ in treating mild to moderate depression.
Plenty of research is being done on the topic: a quick search of the ISI Web of Science search engine (the fastest way to search for academic research papers) for ‘exercise’ and ‘depression’ reveals 22 papers written in 2012 so far that have both words in the title. These vary from neurological assessments of mice in Neuroscience to randomised trials of the effects of yoga in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Most recently, depression and exercise have hit the headlines in the last few days following a study that suggested this link didn’t actually exist.
Exercise doesn’t help, say the headlines
“Exercise doesn’t help depression, study concludes” says the Guardian. The Daily Mail, Telegraph and Metro all carry similar stories. The study in question, published in the BMJ yesterday, is the first large scale randomised trial of its kind. It looked at the differences between patients on ‘conventional’ treatments alone (i.e. antidepressants or therapy) and those combining drugs with exercise. The results are fairly damning for proponents of physical activity.