The first study to compare effects of antidepressants with running exercises for anxiety, depression and overall health shows that they have about the same benefits for mental health – but a 16-week course of running over the same period scores higher in terms of physical health improvement, whereas antidepressants lead to a slightly worse physical condition, as has been suggested by previous studies. However, the drop-out rate was much higher in the group which initially chose exercise.
Professor Brenda Penninx (Vrije University, Amsterdam) presented the work at the ECNP conference in Barcelona (after recent publication in the Journal of Affective Disorders1) saying:
“We wanted to compare how exercise or antidepressants affect your general health, not just your mental health”.
The researchers studied 141 patients with depression and/or anxiety. They were offered a choice of treatment; SSRI antidepressants for 16 weeks, or group-based running therapy for 16 weeks. 45 chose antidepressants, with 96 participating in running. The members of the group which chose antidepressants were slightly more depressed than the members of the group which chose to take running.
Professor Penninx said “This study gave anxious and depressed people a real-life choice, medication or exercise. Interestingly, the majority opted for exercise, which led to the numbers in the running group being larger than in the medication group”.
Treatment with antidepressants required patients to adhere to their prescribed medication intake but this generally does not directly impact on daily behaviors. In contrast, exercise directly addresses the sedentary lifestyle often found in patients with depressive and anxiety disorders by encouraging persons to go outside, set personal goals, improve their fitness and participate in a group activity.