High Intensity Exercise More Effective at Combating Anxiety and Depression than Drugs According to Study

March 15, 2023 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit (@crossfit)
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New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine discovered that physical activity is 1.5 times more useful at treating mild to moderate depression, stress and anxiety than traditional medication, or cognitive behavior therapy.

The details: The research, led by Dr. Ben Singh, looked at close to 100 meta-reviews of randomized controlled trials that included 128,119 participants, and found that all forms of exercise are beneficial for mental health, but that high intensity exercise offers the biggest benefit of all, thus suggesting physical activity should be considered the first-choice treatment option for those suffering from various forms of mental illness.

Why this matters: The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a billion people currently suffer from a mental disorder, with depression and anxiety being the most common. Further, the WHO estimates there has been an increase in mental health disorders by as much as 28 percent since the onset of COVID-19.

The big picture: This study is certainly not the first of its kind, and is, in fact, part of a growing body of research that supports the notion that exercise, first and foremost, should be used to treat mental illness.

  • For example, this 2021 study, found that exercise lowers the risk of anxiety by more than 60 percent, while this research out of Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, suggests that greater physical strength might be correlated with reduced levels of anxiety. 
  • It’s research like this that has led gyms like EHP Performance in Moorhead, MN to offer a full gamut of mental health services, from mindset and sports performance coaching for lifestyle and elite athletes, to support for conditions like PTSD, anxiety or substance abuse.

And while the CrossFit community might wholeheartedly recognize the importance exercise and fitness has on mental health, it’s arguably still not the number one choice of medication being prescribed to those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. But according to yet another body of research, it probably should be.

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