Antidepressants VS Running

November 28, 2023

Antidepressants VS Running

We often hear the advice "exercise regularly" when seeking treatment for depression.

It might even sound like a cliché from doctors:

"Eat well, don't overwork yourself, do what makes you happy, exercise."

Even people without a medical background might think they could give such advice.

However, what if there's real evidence behind this advice? There are many studies that show that exercise significantly impacts depression. One recent study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in May 2023, compared the effects of antidepressant medication with 'running therapy'.

The study subjects were patients with depression and anxiety disorders. The experiment was simple. The patients were divided into two groups. The first group was subjected to conventional drug therapy while the second group was subjected to running at least twice a week for 16 weeks. The outcome was intriguing.

After 16 weeks, it was found that there was no difference in the remission rates (the degree to which symptoms of the disease disappeared) between the two groups. This indicated that both treatments were equally effective.
  • Antidepressant group: after 16 weeks, 45% were no longer diagnosed with depression/anxiety disorders.
  • Running therapy group: after 16 weeks, 43% were no longer diagnosed with depression/anxiety disorders.
  • There were no statistically significant differences in remission rates between the two groups.
Improvements in physical health indicators were higher in the group that undertook running (weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and heart function, etc.).
While 82.2% of the antidepressant group completed drug intake until the end of the experiment, only 52.1% of the running therapy group completed the therapy.

In conclusion, it was determined that the benefits of antidepressants and running to combat depression are comparable. However, physical health improved more with running therapy. Despite this, maintaining a running routine for at least twice a week for 16 weeks proved to be more difficult than simply taking a pill.

Still, the research does not declare that running has the same effect as antidepressants. There are many unverified aspects in the study. The results were not derived from a randomized clinical trial, and it was pointed out that the dose of antidepressants used in the study was smaller than typical cases. The diagnosis was not based on the universal international criteria, DSM-5. Moreover, it's paradoxical to suggest increased physical activity as a solution when one of the significant symptoms of depression is lethargy. The study doesn't sufficiently consider why people with depression can't move their bodies.

Nonetheless, the method doesn't matter in the face of disease treatment. If the disease lessens or recedes when reviewed scientifically, that's all that counts. Antidepressants provenly work, hence they cannot be denied. However, to continuously take care of one's mental health and to prevent falling back into the swamp of depression, it's also important to learn helpful methods throughout the course of daily life. In this case, cognitive behavioral therapy — learning how to cope with one's heart and the exercise — can be as important as antidepressants.

Now, when doctors say "Exercise regularly", let's realize that the following is omitted and seriously consider it.

So, the next time doctors say, "Exercise regularly," let's seriously accept and consider it knowing that they've omitted saying, "Exercise regularly (According to research, regularly exercising has as much effect as antidepressants. Also, you can take care of your physical health which antidepressants do not improve. With the additional benefit, there's no reason not to exercise. Of course, we are well-aware that exercising at least twice a week isn't easy. Still, it's definitely important. It's as important a 'treatment' as antidepressants. Please take this as a prescription, too, and try to exercise). Now, next patient?"


Fusar-Poli, P., Estradé, A., Stanghellini, G., Esposito, C.M., Rosfort, R., Mancini, M., Norman, P., Cullen, J., Adesina, M., Jimenez, G.B., da Cunha Lewin, C., Drah, E.A., Julien, M., Lamba, M., Mutura, E.M., Prawira, B., Sugianto, A., Teressa, J., White, L.A., Damiani, S., Vasconcelos, C., Bonoldi, I., Politi, P., Vieta, E., Radden, J., Fuchs, T., Ratcliffe, M. and Maj, M. (2023), The lived experience of depression: a bottom-up review co-written by experts by experience and academics. World Psychiatry, 22: 352-365.

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