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Guidance backs exercise as ‘add-on’ for mental health treatment

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Exercise relieves symptoms of major mental health conditions, and subsequently should be used as a pillar of treatment, according to the European Psychiatric Association.

In new guidance it suggests that a regime of structured exercise should be added to standard medication and psychotherapy.

“Our guidelines provide direction for future clinical practice”

Brendon Stubbs

The association has released the new guidelines on exercise as a mental health treatment, in the wake of a review of available evidence.

The guidelines, published in the journal European Psychiatry, were drawn up after a meta-review of standing research on exercise for mental health conducted by a multi-disciplinary team.

It concluded that moderate intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, relieved symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and improved overall cardio-respiratory health and cognition.

The subsequent guidelines recommend the addition of an exercise regime alongside any existing medication or treatments for those with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and major depression.

Lead investigator Dr Brendon Stubbs, from King’s College London, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our guidelines provide direction for future clinical practice.

“Specifically, we provide convincing evidence that it is now time for professionally-delivered physical activity interventions to move from the fringes of healthcare and become a core component in the treatment of mental health conditions,” he said.

Full recovery from mental illness does not often occur, and patients often also experience physical health problems, including premature cardiovascular disease, noted senior author Dr Kai Kahl, from Hannover Medical School in Germany.

Dr Stubbs highlighted that exercise aids in the reduction of these cardiovascular risks as well as mental health risks.

He added: “Our systematic review of top-tier evidence has convincingly demonstrated that exercise training, delivered by physical activity professionals, does indeed provide an effective add-on treatment for improving both physical and mental health outcomes in people with mental illness.”

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