A meta-analysis assesses the efficacy of exercise in alleviating depressive symptoms.
In a meta-analysis published in 2008 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Mead and Colleagues assessed the efficacy of exercise in treating people with diagnosed depression. The analysis included 23 randomized controlled trials. The results evidenced a statistical and clinical improvement of criteria associated with depression.
The Study Rationale
Depression is a common, though potentially fatal, illness. It can cause intense suffering (sadness, loss of self-esteem, mood disorders, etc.) and organic dysfunction (consequences of sleep loss, appetite issues, etc.). Conventional treatments include antidepressant medication and psychotherapy (mostly: cognitive behavioral therapy, known as CBT). Researchers and clinicians have recently shifted their focus to physical exercise as an alternate or complementary therapy. A number of clinical observations and mechanistic studies have helped solidify the notion that adapted, regular physical activity may have an antidepressant effect on patients. Nevertheless, health authority boards remain skeptical, and place this hypothesis at category C level on the Evidence Based Medicine recommendation scale.
A number of clinical observations and mechanistic studies have helped solidify the notion that adapted, regular physical activity may have an antidepressant effect on patients.
Can regular adapted physical activity improve depressive symptoms in adults?
This meta-analysis was based on all the studies published to date on the topic. It included the data of 23 minable studies with a total of 907 participants. Exercise program length varied from 10 days to 4 months.
This meta-analysis evidenced the superior efficacy of the exercise group over the control group in improving depressive symptoms. This was shown in the short term (at the end of the exercise program), as well as in the medium term. However, the analysis failed to show the superiority of exercise over cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressant medication, mostly because of insufficient study data.
This study evidenced the superior efficacy of the exercise group over the control group in improving depressive symptoms.
What it means for Patients
Regular exercise – and specifically, endurance exercise – acts as an antidepressant in depressed patients. So far, it has not proved more or less efficacious than psychotherapy or antidepressant medication.
What it means for Healthcare Professionals
While the benefits of physical activity for depressed patients has been proved with a significant effect size, randomized control trials have yet to specify its optimal content, frequency, intensity, duration and supervision mode. Furthermore, exercise has not proved more or less efficacious than psychotherapy or antidepressant medication.
What it means for Researchers
Engaging in regular physical activity is beneficial to depressed patients. Further research needs to be done to specify the optimal dose and assess the costs/benefits ratio.
What it means for Policymakers
Engaging in regular supervised exercise is beneficial to depressed patients. Further research needs to be done to specify the optimal dose and assess the costs/benefits ratio.
Mead GE, Morley W, Campbell P, Greig CA, McMurdo M, Lawlor DA (2008). Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4, CD004366.
To reference this Blog en Sante © article.
Ninot G (2014). New treatment against depression, physical activity. Blog en Sante, A34.
© Copyright 2014 Grégory Ninot. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Syl Billere for the English Revision.