News & Perspectives

Exercise Benefits Patients With Psychiatric Disorders
What the Study Showed

Exercise, whether aerobic or strength training, appears to be able to help treat individuals suffering from mild to moderate depression and may also benefit those with anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.

How It Was Done

The researchers analyzed all studies published since 1981 in which exercise was used to treat individuals suffering from various psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Why Its Important

The researchers found that exercising either aerobically or doing strength training as little as 3 times a week, for 20-60 minute sessions for 5 weeks significantly improved depression. And the benefits were maintained up to one year, especially if they continued to perform some regular physical activity. In one study of individuals with moderate to severe panic disorder who ran three times a week for 10 weeks, both running and chlomipramine, medication used to treat panic disorder, were more effective than the placebo in reducing anxiety symptoms. However, the medication worked faster and was more effective. According to the investigators: "Regular exercise is a viable, cost-effective treatment for mild to moderate depression and may serve as a useful adjunct in the comprehensive treatment of more severe episodes of the disorder."

Additional Findings

What's particularly interesting is that strength training was as effective as aerobic exercise in treating depression. And it didn't take vigorous activity either -- even walking was helpful. The researchers are not sure how exercise impacts depression but there are plenty of theories, including boosting mood-elevating endorphins, affecting mood-related neurotransmitters, and distracting from negative thoughts and emotions. Any effect of exercise on anxiety is also speculative, such as buffering stress or acting like a form of meditation. Some studies indicate that schizophrenics may benefit from exercise which may reduce depression, psychotic symptoms and the frequency of hallucinations. However, the researchers admit that more studies are needed on that population before any conclusions can be made.

Date Published: 02/14/2000
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