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Exercise and mental health
Exercise and mental health

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2 The role of exercise in reducing anxiety and depression

It has been suggested that one in six adults in Great Britain suffers from a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety (Cooper and Bebbington, 2006), which makes the effective treatment of these conditions an issue of great importance. Anti-depression medication is often prescribed to treat depression, but compliance with taking these medications is often poor and they can have negative side effects (Lawlor and Hopker, 2001). Exercise has been suggested as an alternative or additional treatment to medication and other treatments.

Activity 3 Fit to fight depression

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

View the video titled ‘Fit to fight depression’. This video outlines the work of universities in the south-west of England investigating the role of exercise in reducing depression. What are the benefits of using exercise to treat depression as opposed to anti-depression medication?

If you are reading this course as an ebook, you can access this video here: Fit to Fight Depression [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


The video gives an interesting account of depression in the UK in general and the work of the universities involved in the project. The researchers in the video suggest that exercise may be a better form of treatment than medication, because it can give people a sense of control and self-management and has minimal side effects.

Case study: Malcolm

Malcolm has been having a difficult time recently. Six months ago his brother died after a long illness. He was very close to his brother and has found it difficult to come to terms with the loss. Malcolm has gradually become more and more withdrawn and depressed. Some mornings he simply can’t face leaving the house and going to work and often spends the day in bed feeling low and unhappy.

Malcolm’s doctor has told him that he is suffering from depression. The doctor is reluctant to prescribe anti-depression medication to Malcolm, so instead recommends exercise. However, Malcolm is a little sceptical that exercise can help him.