Exercise referral schemes indicate reduction in depression levels

Release Date: 07 November 2011

Source: Mental Health Foundation

Country: United Kingdom

The British Medical Journal today published the report Effect of exercise referral schemes in primary care on physical activity and improving health outcomes: systematic review and meta-analysis by the research teams at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, the University of Exeter and Brunel University, which disclosed only “weak evidence” in favour of exercise referral schemes.

The Mental Health Foundation's Head of Research, Dr Eva Cyhlarova, responds:

“We are sorry to see the inconclusive results of this paper, which suggest that exercise referral schemes provide little benefit for people’s overall health. We do, however, feel that these findings may be inconclusive partly due to the fact that only a very small number of studies met the inclusion criteria, and these were - at the same time - very heterogeneous in terms of the exercise referral scheme, follow up period, and population included.

We are cautious with the report’s call for a disinvestment in exercise referral schemes, as there is some evidence to suggest that such schemes may benefit both physical and mental health of certain groups of patients.

Nevertheless, it is promising that that the report indicated a significant reduction in depression levels, especially given that the majority of participants were referred to these exercise schemes for sedentary lifestyle and/or cardiovascular risk factors, not for mental health problems. With this in mind, we would like to see further research into the mental health benefits of exercise referral schemes for targeted groups of people, such as those with common mental health problems.”