Exercise should be the primary treatment for depression and other common mental health conditions, according to University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers.
The most comprehensive review of research to date shows that mild to moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress can be alleviated with physical activity.
According to their research, exercise is 1.5 times more effective than counselling and top medications, ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie says.
The study found that 12-week or shorter exercise interventions reduced mental health symptoms the most. The review has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Beddie says the benefits of exercise as it relates to mental health, especially depression, are now well known, but this new groundbreaking research shows that its actually the most effective treatment and better than counselling and/or pharmaceuticals.
“Anti-depressants are one of the most over-prescribed drugs globally and the second most prescribed drug in the US.
“Some research goes so far to say that the key advantages for many is from the placebo effect, not the active ingredients.
“In New Zealand, the rate is over half a million (543,000 in 2020), meaning more than 10 percent of Kiwis are prescribed anti-depressants annually.
“Physical activity is not only protective against depression, but also the most effective treatment tool, according to the latest research.
“Government announced more than a $1billion dollars was to be invested on wellness in 2019, but very little went into prevention, or using other non-medical interventions.
“Exercise also has the huge benefit that it gives people control over their own treatment. They secure that control and are responsible for their own improvement. The results can be surprisingly quick and people feel the empowerment of exercise far quicker than any other method.”
Beddie calls on the government, and in particular the new health minister, to work with ExerciseNZ to save on cost of prescriptions and also help people get control of their own lives and reduce depression rates.
Mental health disorders are a leading cause of health problems in New Zealand and around the world. It is costly for people and for society, poor mental health affected one in eight people in 2019 and recent studies show up to one in five people experience higher levels of psychological distress during middle age.
Physical activity is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress across a wide range of adult populations, including the general population, people with diagnosed mental health disorders and people with chronic disease.