Running is as effective as antidepressants at improving mental health – and offers additional physical benefits, a study has found.
Patients who started jogging reported reduced depression and anxiety as often after sixteen weeks as those who took pills.
However, they also benefited from better fitness, with improved weight, better waist circumference, better blood pressure and better heart function.
Meanwhile, those given the drugs saw a worsening of these metabolic markers, researchers from the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, found.
The scientists studied 141 patients with depression and/or anxiety, who were given the choice of two treatments over a period of 16 weeks.
Dutch scientists studied 141 patients with depression and/or anxiety, who were given the choice between running or medication over a period of 16 weeks (stock image)
Forty-five chose to take an antidepressant, namely the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) Escitalopram.
And 96 chose to join a running group, which offered two or three 45-minute guided sessions a week.
At the end of the study, 44 percent in both groups showed an improvement in depression and anxiety.
However, while the running group also showed improvements in physical health, those in the antidepressant group tended to get worse.
Strikingly, only about half (52 percent) of participants in the running group fully adhered to the plan, compared with 82 percent on medication, according to findings presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference in Barcelona.
Researcher Professor Brenda Penninx, from the Vrije Universiteit, said: ‘It is important to say that there is room for both therapies in depression care.
‘The research shows that many people like the idea of ??exercise, but it can be difficult to implement, even though the benefits are significant.
‘We found that most people are compliant with taking antidepressants, while about half of the running group adhered to exercise therapy twice a week.
‘Telling patients to run is not enough.
‘Changing exercise behavior requires adequate supervision and encouragement.’
She added: ‘Antidepressants are generally safe and effective. They work for most people.
‘We know that not treating depression at all leads to worse outcomes; so antidepressants are generally a good choice.
‘Yet we need to expand our treatment arsenal, because not all patients respond to antidepressants or are willing to use them.
‘Our results suggest that implementing exercise therapy is something we should take much more seriously, as it could be a good – and perhaps even better – choice for some of our patients.’
The members of the group who chose antidepressants were slightly more depressed than those who chose to run.
Researchers say antidepressant treatment requires patients to adhere to prescribed medication intake, but this generally does not directly affect daily behavior.
Exercise, on the other hand, directly addresses the sedentary lifestyle common in patients with depressive and anxiety disorders, by encouraging them to get outside, set personal goals, improve their fitness and participate in a group activity.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Eric Ruhe, from the Amsterdam University Medical Centers, said: ‘These are very interesting results which once again demonstrate that physical health can influence mental health and that the treatment of depression and anxiety can be achieved through exercise, of course without the negative consequences. effects of antidepressants.
‘However, a number of comments are important.
‘At first patients followed their preference, which is common, but ideally we should advise patients what works best.
‘Making this choice is understandable from a pragmatic point of view if patients have strong preferences, which you have to take into account in a study like this.
‘The disadvantage is that the comparisons between groups can be distorted compared to a real randomized trial.
‘For example, patients in the antidepressant group were more depressed, which could be associated with a lower chance of sticking with the exercises.
‘We must therefore be careful not to overinterpret the comparisons between groups, which the authors rightly acknowledge.
‘Finally, a very important finding is the difference in treatment compliance between the interventions: 52 percent in the exercise group and 82 percent in the antidepressant group.
‘This shows that changing a lifestyle is more difficult than taking a pill.
‘This is not exclusive to psychiatry, which indicates that we should also focus on improving adherence to healthy behaviours.
‘This could have a huge impact on healthcare in general, but also on psychiatric diseases.’