Can martial arts help with depression?

When martial arts was combined with a standard depression treatment for a group of people with depression, researchers found better improvement in the level of depression, as well as improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy, in comparison to another group in which the standard depression treatment was combined with a health education class.

About 60% of older individuals who seek depression treatment don’t get relief with a prescription medication. Depression can result in serious consequences, which includes greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care.

This study demonstrates that incorporating a mind-body exercise such as martial arts, which is readily available in the community could improve the results of depression treatment in many individuals, who might also have additional co-existing conditions, or cognitive impairment.

For the research, 112 individuals having major depression were given a drug, standard depression treatment, for about a month. From among those individuals, 73 who exhibited only partial improvement carried on receiving the depression treatment on a daily basis but were in addition randomly allocated to 10 weeks of either a martial arts class for 2 hours each week or a health education class for 2 hours each week.

All the individuals were evaluated for their levels of depression, resilience, anxiety, cognition, immune system inflammation and health-related quality of life at the start of the research and again 4 months afterwards.

Depression level for each individual was evaluated by making use of the diagnostic questionnaire called the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. The questions are formulated to determine the degree of depression. A cut-off score of 10/11 is usually considered to be appropriate for diagnosing depression.

The study revealed that individuals practicing martial arts, 94% had a score of under 10, with 65% having remission, compared to individuals who had health education, 77% had scores of 10 or less, with 51% having remission.

Although both groups exhibited improvement in the severity of depression, larger reductions were seen in individuals taking escitalopram as well as practicing martial arts, a kind of exercise that’s gentle enough for most people.