Does physical exercise positively impact on clinical depression or not?

From my own experience I say yes.

The BBC reports on an NHS-funded study published in the British medical Journal that says no.

Mark Rice-Oxley in the Guardian questions the research and cites anecdotal evidence.

Francis Sedgemore examines Rice-Oxley’s ‘counterfactual argument’.

And Paul Burgin is a little disturbed by the research findings.

I still feel that exercise helps, even if gentle, and especially outdoors.

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5 Responses to “Does physical exercise positively impact on clinical depression or not?”

  1. anonim Says:

    Listened to this report on R4 yesterday and noted that at the end the researcher noted that the groups used had quite ‘severe’ depression; whereas exercise is recommended for mild to moderate. So don’t really know what the BBC is playing at; the research certainly doesn’t suggest exercise is of no use with certain kinds of depression, or at certain points in a period of depression.

    Swimming three to five miles a week certainly helped me when I suffered from clinical depression – even tho’ I can’t really remember much about it.

  2. Tim Says:

    Sometimes yes and sometimes no. If you are very severely depressed just getting up in the morning can be a huge effort, with the constant threat of exhaustion. When sat staring at a wall for three hours, which goes by in the blink of an eye seemingly, just getting out of a chair can be a Herculean effort.

    Other days when the depression isn’t so bad for people then yes, it can be a great help. But continuity is the key and that can be a real problem for people on their own.

  3. Simian Says:

    The BBC and various newspapers based their articles on a news feed that did not quite get its facts right. No surprises there then!
    I think what the study actually concludes is that taking exercise does not in itself shorten the time taken for recovery from depression. It does offer the insight that exercise can help short term amelioration of symptoms, an idea to which I think many of can relate.
    There have actually been a lot of studies in the past on this topic, but a previous meta-analysis in BMJ concluded that they were too flawed to provide reliable conclusions. On the other hand this one appears to have been rigorous, and yet there were still shortcomings. For instance, participants were selected within a certain age range, who could answer questionnaires in English, and who were willing to undertake a monitored execise regime, and so on.
    One thing I’m learning on this course I’m doing is just how slippery a customer mental health theory is!…

  4. Thora Says:

    I think anonim raises a key point. Antidepressants aren’t usually recommended for mild depression, and interest has been in exercise as a possible treatment for people with mild to medium depression. The BMJ study seemed to be more directed at seeing if their physical activity program worked in getting people to increase physical activity in the long term (even despite being severely depressed) and that worked (increased activity by 15%) , http://www.sociophobics.com/does-exercise-help-treat-depression. Plus studies show that depression and anxiety can lead to obesity, obesity can lead to depression and anxiety, adding to weight gain being a regular side effect of antidepressants. So with nothing to lose and everything to gain, – why should exercise be a part of any treatment program for mental illness?

  5. Simian Says:

    Thora,
    The purpose of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of facilitated physical activity as an adjunctive treatment for adults with depression presenting in primary care.

    In addition to usual care, intervention participants were offered up to three face to face sessions and 10 telephone calls with a trained physical activity facilitator over eight months. The intervention was based on theory and aimed to provide individually tailored support and encouragement to engage in physical activity.

    The study concluded that the addition of a facilitated physical activity intervention to usual care did not improve depression outcome or reduce use of antidepressants compared with usual care alone.

    However, the researchers also found that there is empirical evidence from experimental studies in volunteers that some people report improved affect and pleasure while exercising at moderate levels.

    Many people agree that exercise can be beneficial for lifting one’s mood, and I’d agree that there really isn’t a downside unless there are individual specific risks to exercise.

    I think the point being made is that using exercise in addition to other forms of therapy does not shorten the time taken for recovery.
    The NHS was interested in this as a potential way to shorten people’s illnesses. As a consequence of this study it is probably less likely that the NHS will invest more in promoting physical exercise for this purpose.

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