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Large Effect Sizes Supporting Exercise As A Treatment For Depression

February 3, 2023

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting Americans. Multiple treatment interventions can be utilized in the treatment of this diagnosis including medications and counseling/talk therapy. Exercise remains an underutilized intervention despite significant research supporting its use as part of a multi modal treatment approach for depression. Previous researchers have shown benefits of multiple forms of exercise including aerobic exercise, strength training, group classes, or individual workouts. A new review of the evidence provides additional support for the utilization of exercise in the treatment of depression.

Heissel and colleagues published their findings on the impact of exercise on patients with depression in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2023). Authors included 41 studies of over 2200 participants utilizing multiple forms of exercise. Large effect sizes were found favoring exercise in the treatment of depression. An impressive number needed to treat (NNT) of 2 was published. Indicating only two people with depression would need to be treated with exercise in order to have a successful outcome versus another intervention. They concluded “exercise is efficacious in treating depression and depressive symptoms and should be offered as an evidence based treatment option”. Patients with depression symptoms are strongly encouraged to reach out to medical professional to determine which treatments are best for their symptoms.