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October 9, 2023

Running is just as effective as medication at treating depression, study finds

Filed under: Fitness — Tags: — admin @ 4:10 am

You shouldn’t run away from your problems… but running to cope with them could be more effective than you’d think.

Researchers in Amsterdam have found that regular running can be just as effective at dealing with depression as medication is.

The scientists conducted a study in which some people went on regular runs, while some took antidepressants. The results showed that “both interventions helped with the depression to around the same extent,” Professor Brenda Penninx shared of their findings.

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Portrait of a cheerful woman with wireless headphones running on a sunny day. She is holding a water bottle while running.

For the study, 141 participants suffering from depression and/or anxiety were asked to choose between taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants or participating in a group run two to three times a week. After 16 weeks, their mental wellbeing was examined.

Of all the participants, 91 chose to run regularly, while 45 chose to take the medication. 

Fourty-four per cent of the participants reported feeling better, regardless of whether they’d been running or taking the antidepressants.

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Closeup of man hand pouring capsules from a pill bottle into hand. Senior man taking daily medicine to consume. Close up of male hands taking daily dose of drug.

The people who chose to go on weekly runs also had the added benefit of seeing their health improve.

“Antidepressants generally had worse impact on body weight, heart rate variability and blood pressure, whereas running therapy led to improved effect on general fitness and heart rate for instance,” Penninx said.

Exercising improved participants’ weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and heart function.

“In the end, patients are only truly helped when we are improving their mental health without unnecessarily worsening their physical health”.

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However, it’s important to note that not all the runners stuck with the habit through to the end of the trial. Only 52 per cent of them stuck to the plan, versus 82 per cent of those taking the pills.

“The study shows that lots of people like the idea of exercising, but it can be difficult to carry this through, even though the benefits are significant,” Penninx noted.

Other experts noted that those who chose to take the antidepressants – instead of exercising – may have been more depressed than the runners. This would impact the likelihood of them committing to and maintaining an exercise routine.

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The goal of the study wasn’t to dissuade people from taking medication, but instead to remind people of the importance to approach health issues holistically.

“We know that not treating depression at all leads to worse outcomes; so antidepressants are generally a good choice. Nevertheless, we need to extend our treatment arsenal as not all patients respond to antidepressants or are willing to take them,” Penninx said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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