Running May Offer Mental Health Benefits Similar to Drugs For Depression

A new study suggests that running therapy has significant effects on depression, similar to those of antidepressants. Cited in the October 2023 European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in Barcelona, it was shown that an exercise therapy could yield as much results in mental health outcomes as taking drugs for depression.

The lead study author of the paper; Brenda Penninx, PhD, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology hints that “antidepressants work for most people – they know that not treating depression at all leads to worse outcomes; so antidepressants are generally a good choice.”

“This study, however, showed that running therapy can reduce depressive symptoms, at least in some depressed persons. The effects on mental health outcomes were rather comparable to that seen in the group that used antidepressants,” she added.

Running versus medication for depression

The research occurred over a course of 16 weeks with 141 people with depression, anxiety, or both being featured. Out of the number, 45 people were treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, and 96 were put on running therapy.

Individuals who fell under the category of antidepressant were treated with escitalopram (Lexapro and Cipralex) at an initial dosage of 10 milligrams (mg) per day, which was administered and managed by a psychiatrist. However, patients were treated with sertraline when escitalopram was found to be ineffective or poorly tolerated.

On the other hand, running therapy was carried out on a supervised 45-minute outdoor running sessions, with a target of two to three sessions a week, which aligns with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Running therapy offers an additional physical health support

The research paper concluded that about 44 percent in each of the two study groups showed remission in symptoms of depression – which the authors say is still a considerable result.

However, according to Cleveland Clinic, patients who were categorized under running therapy showed improvement in physical health variables like heart rate, blood pressure, and weight and lung function whereas those who were on antidepressants experienced signs of physical decline, with weight, blood pressure, and triglycerides increasing, and heart rate variabilities.

The research team also highlighted that exercise directly addresses the sedentary lifestyle often found in patients with depressive and anxiety disorders hence recommend exercising as a better alternative to managing depression.

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