How do you cope during times of stress? And what do you turn to when you’re up against difficulties?
In 2022, researchers investigated a possible outlet – physical activity (PA).To study the relationship between physical activity and mental health, the researchers synthesized evidence on the effects of physical activity on symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.
Across 97 reviews with over 100000 participants, physical activity was found to have benefits across all clinical populations, with larger benefits for people with depression, HIV and kidney disease, in pregnant and postpartum women, and in healthy individuals. On the other hand, usual care without physical activity, only had medium effects on depression. All forms of physical activity were beneficial, however moderate to high-intensity physical activity was associated with an even greater improvement in symptoms. The study found that different modes of physical activity have different psychological effects. While resistance exercise had the largest effects on depression, yoga and other mind-body exercises were most effective for reducing anxiety.
Moreover, the study highlights the neuromuscular mechanisms through which physical activity improves depression. Physical activity can lead to an increased expression of neurotrophic factors, greater availability of serotonin and norepinephrine, and reduced systemic inflammation. These mechanisms may prevent as well as treat mental health disorders.
A key strength of this study is the umbrella review it uses to evaluate the effects of all types of PA on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in all adult populations. The study calls for more research and clinical actions. More research is needed to evaluate the different factors that can influence this relationship between physical activity and mental health, such as the exact type, duration, and intensity of physical activity, and the individual characteristics at play, such as age, sex, and socioeconomic status. Do team sports generate different effects than solo training?
And as for actions, it is critical for healthcare professionals to consider physical activity in treatment plans. In our world today, one in two people will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. While the annual global costs of mental health disorders have been estimated at $2.5 trillion, hundreds of millions of people face the debilitating effects of depression and anxiety in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, lifestyle management approaches, such as exercise, sleep, and diet, need to be incorporated with psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy treatment to achieve best outcomes.
The study shows that lifestyle changes can alter lives: to improve the mental health outcomes of people around the world, it is time that we turn towards the great benefits of physical activity.
By: Helena Zhang, BS
- Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, Dumuid D, Virgara R, Watson A, Szeto K, O’Connor E, Ferguson T, Eglitis E, Miatke A, Simpson CE, Maher C. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. Br J Sports Med. 2023 Feb 16:bjsports-2022-106195. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36796860.