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Exercise is Medicine for Depression | Find Your Stride | Edinburgh Podiatrist

In this blog post we take a closer look at a systematic literature review published earlier this year titled: Exercise as Medicine for Depressive Symptoms. The review was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this year, Andreas Heissel et al. (2023) delved into the potential of exercise as a therapeutic intervention for individuals suffering from depressive symptoms. The study brings to light the growing body of evidence supporting the positive impact of exercise on mental health, shedding light on the potential to prescribe exercise as a form of medicine.


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Depression, a prevalent mental health disorder, affects millions of people worldwide. While traditional treatments like antidepressant medications and psychotherapy continue to be the gold standard, Heissel's review suggests that exercise may be a complementary or standalone alternative for managing depressive symptoms.


The systematic review consolidated findings from various studies and randomized controlled trials, examining the relationship between exercise and depressive symptoms. The literature included in the review spanned different populations, including both healthy individuals experiencing mild depressive symptoms and those with clinical depression. By examining a broad range of studies, this systematic review adds to the strength of the evidence supporting exercise as a viable treatment option.


The findings of this review were conclusive, indicating that exercise has a significant positive effect on reducing depressive symptoms. More specifically, aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or cycling, was found to have the most robust effect in improving mental health outcomes. In addition to aerobic exercise, resistance training and mind-body exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, were also found to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms.


The review also shed light on potential mechanisms through which exercise exerts its anti-depressant effects. Several factors, including increased release of endorphins, improved brain function, neurogenesis, and changes in inflammatory markers, contribute to the positive impact of exercise on mental health outcomes. These findings provide valuable insights into the underlying biological mechanisms that may explain the link between exercise and improved mood.


While the systematic review presents compelling evidence, it is essential to acknowledge certain limitations. The majority of studies included were short-term and focused on measuring the immediate effects of exercise on depressive symptoms. There is a need for long-term studies that examine the sustained effects of exercise on mental health outcomes. Additionally, the review does not explore the optimal exercise prescription, including the frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise required to achieve optimal mental health benefits.


In conclusion, this systematic review provides a comprehensive overview of the relationship between exercise and depressive symptoms. It reaffirms the notion that exercise can be a valuable therapeutic intervention for individuals suffering from depression. By highlighting the physiological and psychological mechanisms that underlie the benefits of exercise, this review encourages healthcare professionals to consider exercise as a form of medicine for treating depressive symptoms. Further research is still warranted to explore the optimal exercise prescription and the long-term effects of exercise on mental health but nevertheless, the benefits of exercise are clear and this research provides further motivation to keep active.


Find Your Stride!

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