Study of the Day: Exercise Might Not Help With Depression, After All

Results of a new randomized controlled trial show that adding a physical activity intervention to usual care does not reduce symptoms of depression.

Study of the DayWarren Goldswain/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: A tenth of adults in the U.S. suffer from depression, and current clinical guidance recommends physical activity to alleviate symptoms of this mental disorder. But does exercise really aid in eliminating the blues?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers in the U.K. led by Melanie Chalder recruited 361 adult patients who had recently been diagnosed with depression for a randomized controlled trial. They offered an exercise intervention -- up to three face-to-face sessions and 10 telephone calls with a trained physical activity facilitator over eight months -- to the experimental group, while the rest of the subjects only received the usual care for depression. They monitored the participants for a year to assess any changes in their symptoms.

RESULTS: Though the subjects who were encouraged to exercise did report increased levels of physical activity, there was no evidence that their mood improved more than those in the control group by the eight- and 12-month follow-up points. They were also just as reliant on antidepressants.

CONCLUSION: Though exercise may not fight off depression more than usual care alone, it can still aid patients' physical well-being. "[O]ur intervention was not an effective strategy for reducing symptoms," says Chalder in a statement. "However, it is important to note that increased physical activity is beneficial for people with other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and, of course, these conditions can affect people with depression."

SOURCE: The full study, "Facilitated Physical Activity as a Treatment for Depressed Adults: Randomised Controlled Trial," is published in the journal British Medical Journal.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In