The groundbreaking study, led by researchers at Vrije University, in Amsterdam, is the first to compare antidepressants with exercise as methods of treatment for depression.
For the study, 141 patients with anxiety and depression were given the choice of either taking antidepressants or attending a supervised running group 2-3 times a week for a 16-week period.
While 96 of these patients chose running, the remaining 45 picked medication.
Overall, the same percentage of people (44%) from either group reported feeling better once the 16 weeks were up – with those who chose the running group also experiencing an improvement in heart health, weight, and blood pressure.
However, researchers also highlighted a number of factors to take into account when viewing these results.
Despite running initially being the most popular choice, nearly half (48%) of those who signed up to the running regimen ended up dropping out before the trial was completed.
Meanwhile, 82% of those who chose anti-depressants saw the trial through for the whole 16-week period – and were recorded as having more severe depression than those who chose running.
Speaking about the results, Professor Brenda Pennix stressed that while running was found to be a positive medication-free option for depression, antidepressants are still an important choice for many.
She said: ‘It is important to say that there is room for both therapies in care for depression.
‘Antidepressants are generally safe and effective. They work for most people. We know that not treating depression at all leads to worse outcomes; so antidepressants are generally a good choice.
‘Nevertheless, we need to extend our treatment arsenal as not all patients respond to antidepressants or are willing to take them.
‘Our results suggest that implementing exercise therapy is something we should take much more seriously, as it could be a good – and maybe even better – choice for some of our patients.’
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