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Does exercising more improve the treatment of depression?

13 September 2013

An Incentive Scheme Award funded by the National Institute for Health Research Systematic Reviews (NIHR SR) Programme suggests that further research is needed to confirm whether exercise improves depression.

Depression is a common and disabling illness, affecting approximately 121 million adults worldwide. Whilst depression is commonly treated with antidepressants or psychological therapy, there is increasing interest in the effect of alternative therapies. Exercise has been advocated as a treatment for depression and has been the subject of research for several decades.

The review managed by the Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Cochrane Review Group assessed the effectiveness of exercise in the treatment of depression. The existing reviews  included in this Cochrane review had to meet the selection criteria of being a randomised controlled trial in which exercise was compared to standard treatment, no treatment or a placebo treatment in adults (aged 18 and over) with depression, but not including postnatal depression.

“Exercise seems to improve depressive symptoms in people with a diagnosis of depression when compared with no treatment or control intervention, however since analyses of methodologically robust trials show a much smaller effect in favour of exercise, some caution is required in interpreting these results,” explains the lead author Professor Gillian Mead.

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The NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC), based at the University of Southampton, manages evaluation research programmes and activities for the NIHR.


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