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One of our students, a retired physician, recently shared with me a study that was published in theBMJ, a medical journal. The study was focused on various kinds of activities and their effect on symptoms of depression.

Of course, most people are generally aware that exercise has a lot of benefits that improve our mental well-being. This is due to the release of endorphins such as seratonin and dopamine, which make us feel good. So it’s not really a surprise that a study of this nature would show a positive impact on depression.

The study set out to identify the optimal dose and modality of exercise for treating major depressive disorder, compared with psychotherapy, antidepressants, and control conditions. Involving more than 14,000 participants, the study concluded that exercise is an effective treatment for depression, with walking or jogging, yoga, and strength training more effective than other exercises, particularly when intense. Yoga and strength training were well tolerated compared with other treatments. The paper claimed that “Exercise appeared equally effective for people with and without comorbidities and with different baseline levels of depression,” and suggested that “these forms of exercise could be considered alongside psychotherapy and antidepressants as core treatments for depression.”

They found that certain exercises affected men and women differently. Notably, walking and jogging were equally effective for both, while strength training and cycling were more effective for women and younger people. Yoga and qigong were more effective for men and older adults, while aerobic exercise positively affected men more than women when used with psychotherapy.

More intense exercise such as running, interval training, strength training, and mixed aerobic exercise yielded greater benefits, although even light physical activity such as walking or hatha yoga still provided “clinically meaningful effects.”

Where does dance fit in?

What really stood out was the impact of dance in this study. Overall, dance outperformed all other exercises and established treatments for depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and cognitive behavioral therapy.

The authors wrote that, “Based on our findings, dance appears to be a promising treatment for depression, with large effects found compared with other interventions in our review.” Unfortunately, it appeared that the small number of participants involved in this aspect of the study kept them from recommending dance more strongly.

Other studies would seem to support the conclusion that dance can be a positive element in treatment of depression. The combination of physical exercise, music, focused use of short-term memory and social interaction should offer a significant impact.

Personally, I’m surprised that there haven’t been more comprehensive studies specializing in dance itself and its benefits on mental health overall. It seems to me that there is enough clinical evidence already to lead medical researchers in that direction.

George Pytlik

Author George Pytlik

Before turning pro, George achieved impressive results as an amateur competitor, holding the Senior (30+) Latin championship in BC, Canada for 7 consecutive years with his wife Wendy. The couple twice achieved a top-3 Canadian ranking in Senior Latin as well as a 3rd place Canadian ranking in 30+ Ten Dance. Today, George and Wendy are professional teachers with a vision of growing a strong dance community in Delta near Vancouver, BC.

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