Physical Activity Cuts Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, Distress

Findings similar for healthy adults, as well as those with mental health or physical conditions

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 16, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Physical activity is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress across a wide range of adult populations, according to a study published online Feb. 16 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Ben Singh, Ph.D., from University of South Australia in Adelaide, and colleagues conducted an umbrella review to synthesize all of the systematic review and meta-analysis evidence through January 2022 on the effects of physical activity on symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.

Based on 97 review articles (1,039 trials with 128,119 participants), the researchers found that physical activity had medium effects on depression (median effect size, −0.43), anxiety (median effect size, −0.42), and psychological distress (effect size, −0.60) versus usual care across adults who were healthy, those with mental health disorders, and those with chronic conditions. People with depression, HIV, and kidney disease; pregnant and postpartum women; and healthy individuals had the largest benefits. Greater improvements in symptoms were associated with higher-intensity physical activity. However, the effectiveness of physical activity diminished with longer duration interventions versus shorter duration interventions.

“Physical activity is known to help improve mental health. Yet despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment,” Singh said in a statement. “Our review shows that physical activity interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations, with some groups showing even greater signs of improvement. Higher intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, while longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts.”

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