Outpacing Depression: Running Proves as Effective as Medication, Study Finds
Could running be as effective as antidepressants in improving mental health?
The answer could be YES, according to a new study.
Recent research from Vrije University, Amsterdam, brings to light a compelling comparison between running and antidepressants, particularly scrutinising their efficacy in mitigating depression and anxiety.
The Study: A Comparative Lens on Mental Health Management
Involving 141 participants, all navigating through the challenges of depression and/or anxiety, the study presented a choice: engage in a running group or opt for a 16-week course of the SSRI antidepressant, Escitalopram. Both groups demonstrated a 44% improvement in depression and anxiety levels, yet diverged when it came to physical health markers.
Participants: 141 patients grappling with depression and/or anxiety.
Choices: Engage in a running group or opt for SSRI antidepressants.
Duration: 16 weeks.
Outcomes: Both groups exhibited a 44% improvement in mental health, with the running group also showcasing physical health improvements.
Physical and Mental Health: A Delicate Balance
Professor Brenda Penninx, a pivotal researcher in the study, explains, "Both interventions helped with the depression to around the same extent." She further delineates a critical difference:
"Antidepressants generally had a worse impact on body weight, heart rate variability, and blood pressure, whereas running therapy led to improved effect on general fitness and heart rate".
This highlights the multifaceted benefits of integrating physical activity into mental health treatment strategies."
Adherence: A Stumbling Block
Despite the apparent benefits, adherence to the running regimen was notably lower, with only 52% sticking to the plan compared to 82% in the antidepressant group.
This discrepancy underscores the challenges inherent in maintaining a physical activity routine and suggests that a supportive framework is essential for success.
NHS Insights: Championing Physical Activity
The NHS staunchly advocates for physical activity, recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly.
This aligns seamlessly with the study’s findings, underscoring the potential of physical activity as a tool for enhancing mental well-being.
The intricate relationship between mental and physical health cannot be overstated. As research suggests, running could potentially emerge as a multifaceted approach to combating depression and anxiety.
While the physical benefits of running are widely acknowledged, its potential as a tool for mental wellness is an avenue that warrants deeper exploration and consideration in healthcare strategies.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How do running and antidepressants compare in treating depression?
Both have shown a 44% improvement in depression and anxiety levels after 16 weeks, but running also demonstrated additional physical health benefits.
2. What physical health benefits does running offer?
Improvements were noted in weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and heart function among participants in the running group.
3. Is adherence to running as a treatment higher than that of antidepressants?
No, adherence was lower in the running group (52%) compared to the antidepressant group (82%).
4. How does the NHS perceive the role of physical activity in mental health?
The NHS recommends regular physical activity as a strategy to enhance mental health, aligning with the findings that underscore the mental health benefits of running.
5. Can I combine short bursts of activity with structured exercise?
Absolutely! Combining both can enhance your physical activity levels and further promote heart health.
This article is for general information only and is not intended to treat or diagnose medical conditions. If in doubt please check with your GP first.
 Antidepressants or running therapy: Comparing effects on mental and physical health in patients with depression and anxiety disorders, Josine E. Verhoeven et al. Journal of Affective Disorders 329 (2023) 19–29.
 Awareness of cardiac autonomic dysregulation by antidepressants, Brenda WJH Penninx, European Neuropsychopharmacology (in press)
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