Running is as effective as as antidepressants for treating depression/anxiety, according to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
To compare how exercise or antidepressants affect mental as well as physical health, researchers recruited 141 patients with depression and/or anxiety. They could pick their choice of treatment: antidepressant escitalopram for 16 weeks, or two or three 45-minute supervised group running sessions per week for 16 weeks. Of the 141 patients, 45 chose antidepressants, while 96 chose running. Those who chose antidepressants were slightly more depressed than those who chose running.
At the end of the study, about 44 per cent in both groups showed improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms. But the running group had an added advantage–they also showed improvement in weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and heart function, whereas the antidepressant group showed a slight deterioration in these metabolic markers.
Adherence was lower in the running group (52 per cent) than in the antidepressant group (82 per cent), suggesting lifestyle modification is much tougher than taking medications. At the same time, antidepressants can have side effects while exercise therapy can benefit both mind and body.
“Antidepressants are generally safe and effective. Nevertheless, we need to extend our treatment arsenal as not all patients respond to antidepressants or are willing to take them. Our results suggest that implementing exercise therapy is something we should take much more seriously, as it could be a good–and maybe even better–choice for some of our patients,” the study observed.