A study by Vrije University in Amsterdam found running can improve mental health as much as antidepressants.
Moreover, running offers additional physical benefits, making it a compelling option for individuals struggling with depression and anxiety.
The study involved 141 patients dealing with depression and anxiety, who were given a choice between two treatment options over 16 weeks.
Forty-five patients chose to take an antidepressant called Escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). In comparison, 96 patients opted to join a running group that offered two or three supervised 45-minute weekly sessions.
The results were striking. After the trial, both groups showed a similar 44 percent improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms.
However, the running group experienced notable improvements in their physical health, including weight loss, reduced waist circumference, improved blood pressure, and enhanced heart function.
The antidepressant group showed a tendency toward worsened metabolic markers.
One intriguing aspect of the study was the difference in adherence between the two groups.
Approximately 82 percent of participants taking antidepressants consistently followed their medication regimen, while only 52 percent of the running group adhered to the recommended two-times-a-week exercise therapy.
This disparity highlighted the importance of supervision and encouragement when prescribing exercise as a therapeutic option.
Professor Brenda Penninx, a researcher at Vrije University, emphasized the significance of both therapies in treating depression.
She noted, “Antidepressants are generally safe and effective. They work for most people. Nevertheless, we must extend our treatment arsenal, as not all patients respond to antidepressants or are willing to take them.”
Exercise vs. Antidepressants: A Mental Health Study
The group members who chose antidepressants initially presented with slightly more severe depression than those who chose running.
However, exercise therapy directly addressed the sedentary lifestyle often associated with depressive and anxiety disorders, encouraging patients to set personal goals, improve their fitness, and participate in group activities.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Eric Ruhe from Amsterdam University Medical Centres emphasized the importance of patient preferences when choosing a treatment.
However, he cautioned against overinterpreting the comparisons between the groups, highlighting that patients in the antidepressant group had more severe depression, which may have affected their engagement in the exercises.
This study underscores the potential benefits of exercise, particularly running, in improving mental health.
While antidepressants remain a valuable treatment option, exercise therapy should be taken more seriously as an alternative or complementary approach, especially for those who prefer a more active route to wellness.
The study’s results also raise important questions about improving adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviors, with potentially far-reaching implications for healthcare and psychiatric treatment.
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Source: Daily Mail