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Exercise Beats Medication: Study Finds Physical Activity Improves Mental Health

Exercising for Mental Health: Study Finds Exercise More Effective than Medication

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 8 people worldwide live with a mental disorder.[0] Poor mental health has been estimated to cost the world economy around $2.5 trillion annually, a cost that is projected to increase to $6 trillion by 2030.[1] In light of this, researchers at the University of South Australia have studied the effectiveness of physical activity as a treatment for mental health conditions and their findings are promising.

The study, which was published in the journal Sports Medicine, included 97 reviews of randomized controlled trials involving 128,119 participants.[2] The researchers found that exercise was 1.5 times more effective than talk therapy or medications in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. Exercise was particularly effective among people with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, healthy individuals, and those with HIV and kidney disease.[1]

The study also noted that higher-intensity physical activity resulted in the greatest improvement of symptoms.[3] All forms of exercise, however, were found to be beneficial, including walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga. Interestingly, the study revealed that the benefits of exercise interventions diminished with longer-duration programs, suggesting that briefer exercise programs may provide more benefits.[4]

According to Prof Carol Maher, a senior researcher at the University of South Australia, this study is the first to examine the effect of any type of physical activity on depression, anxiety, and psychological distress in all ages of adults.[0] She also believes that physical activity should be prioritized as a mainstay approach for managing mental health disorders.

The positive effects of exercise on mental health are numerous. Exercise can help to increase the levels of feel-good hormones, such as endorphins, which can help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.[5] Additionally, strength training exercises can help to increase muscle strength and improve posture, which can boost one’s self-esteem and confidence.[6]

Exercise is a great tool to manage everyday symptoms of mental health conditions, however, it is important to note that it is not intended to replace therapy and medication for those who rely on them to function. With this in mind, it is clear that exercise should be an important part of any mental health treatment plan.

0. “Huge New Study Shows Why Exercise Should Be The First Choice in Treating Depression” ScienceAlert, 2 Mar. 2023,

1. “Health News | Exercise More Helpful to Tackle Mental Issues Than Medication: Study” LatestLY, 3 Mar. 2023,

2. “Exercise Can Help With Depression and Anxiety Even More Than Therapy or Medication, Study Finds” Yahoo Life, 3 Mar. 2023,

3. “Regular exercise can improve mental health for adults and kids, new studies find” CBS Boston, 2 Mar. 2023,

4. “Umbrella review: All types of exercise help mental health symptoms” Healio, 1 Mar. 2023,

5. “Exercises that can change your mental health for the better” Geo News, 3 Mar. 2023,

6. “5 Exercises That Will Change Your Mental Health for the Better” CNET, 21 Jan. 2023,

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