People battling depression and anxiety turn to therapy and medication for help. But a new study has found that exercise could be better at managing mental conditions than the traditional methods of treatment.

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the recent systematic review examined how physical activity impacted and improved depression, anxiety and psychological distress.

The research team indicated that they wanted to provide evidence of the positive effects of exercise on depression, anxiety and psychological distress symptoms among adults.

The large-scale review examined 1,039 research trials involving 128,119 participants, with a focus on mental health disorders and people with various chronic conditions. The team found that physical activity had positive effects on all three mental conditions. But people with depression had the highest benefit among them.

The researchers noticed that more intense physical activity leads to greater improvements in symptoms. However, the effectiveness of exercise diminished with longer-duration interventions.

The team pointed out brisk walking had a higher benefit than simple walking. Exercising for six to 12 weeks also greatly improved the symptoms compared to shorter exercise periods. Hence, they noted that longer-term exercise is crucial for better mental health.

“Physical activity is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress across a wide range of adult populations, including the general population, people with diagnosed mental health disorders and people with chronic disease. Physical activity should be a mainstay approach in the management of depression, anxiety and psychological distress,” the researchers wrote.

Traditional treatments for depression and anxiety, including therapy and medication, are quite effective. What the new study found was a simpler and more effective alternative that may not require that much money.

Exercise impacts mental health through multiple pathways, with short and long-term effects. The most notable is the immediate relief after physical activity when endorphins and dopamine are released in the brain. The two work well in balancing pain control, mood stabilization, motivation and pleasure, according to Healthy Life Recovery.

Although the new study adds evidence to the effectiveness of physical activity in managing mental health conditions, experts still recommend seeking professional help for a more comprehensive plan, as per Neuroscience News.

Exercise with Face Mask
Woman in protective mask doing hyperextension exercise outdoors. Pexels