Physical activity has established the efficacy in improving physical health, mental health and cognition in the general population. Recent research has examined its potential as a preventive measure and/or adjunctive treatment for various mental health conditions. This review summarizes the recent evidence for physical activity in the management of major mental illnesses.
Emerging evidence suggests that physical activity may confer protection against depression and anxiety/stress disorders. There is robust evidence that structured and supervised physical activity, including aerobic and resistance training, can improve multiple outcomes in major depression, pre/postnatal depression, anxiety/stress disorders and schizophrenia. Emerging evidence suggests a potential role for physical activity in bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorders.
The quantity and quality of evidence regarding the efficacy of physical activity for mental illnesses is increasing. Given the established and further potential benefits and low adverse risk profile, physical activity should be offered as an adjunctive part of core mental health treatment. However, there is a need for high-quality multisite randomized controlled trials that can be replicated in routine care in mental health services. Future population-level trials are needed to examine the potential use of physical activity in those at risk of mental health conditions to see if physical activity can prevent the development of mental disorders.
aDepartment of Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
bDepartment of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King's College London
cSouth London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
Correspondence to Garcia Ashdown-Franks, Department of Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, 55 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 2W6, Canada. E-mail: Garcia.email@example.com