Can physical activity prevent or treat clinical depression?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter we explore the role of physical activity for the prevention and treatment of depression. First we narrow our discussion to clinical depression as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Then we focus on epidemiological studies, which have sought links between exercise, physical activity, and depression. Here the weight of the evidence suggests that regular physical activity has a role in preventing the onset of clinical depression. Next we examine the evidence from systematic reviews of trials which have used exercise as a treatment for depression and conclude that there is sufficient evidence for exercise to be used as a treatment. Meta-analyses, using data from these systematic reviews, suggest at least a moderate effect size for exercise versus no treatment for depression and also suggest that exercise has a similar effect size to well-established treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. We also point out the challenges of conducting robust trials in this area and point to future directions for researchers. We then discuss in depth the possible neurobiological mechanisms by which exercise might benefit depression. Finally, we point out that the mental health benefits of exercise are being recognised by various organizations and expert groups and there are numerous resources and guidelines available to help professionals helping people to start exercising.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Exercise Effect on Mental Health
Subtitle of host publicationNeurobiological Mechanisms
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781498739528
ISBN (Print)9781498739511
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2018


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