The study is the most comprehensive to date, encompassing 97 reviews, 1039 trials, and 128,119 participants, and highlights the benefits of physical activity in improving symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress. Exercise interventions that lasted 12 weeks or less were the most effective at reducing mental health symptoms.
The study found that exercise was particularly effective for people with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, healthy individuals, and people with HIV or kidney disease. Lead researcher, Dr Ben Singh, said that exercise interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations and should be prioritised to better manage the growing cases of mental health conditions.
Despite the evidence, physical activity has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment for mental health conditions. The study underscores the need for physical activity, including structured exercise interventions, as a mainstay approach for managing depression and anxiety.
Clinicians often prescribe regular physical exercise as a way to improve health. Recommendations for exercise include mostly aerobic exercises, like walking or cycling, at least 3-5 times a week for 20-30 minutes per session, and resistance training (weight training) to improve muscle mass and quality of life. Resistance training may also have additional health benefits, like reducing osteoporosis risk and skeletal fracture rates.
Regular physical activity is an effective strategy for preventing type 2 diabetes, as there is an inverse relationship between physical activity and the incidence of the disease. Studies show that even small changes in physical activity level can lead to significant reductions in the incidence of type 2 diabetes. For example, women who engage in weekly vigorous exercise have a 16% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, physical activity is a modifiable risk factor that influences cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), which is strongly associated with the incidence of type 2 diabetes.