A Growing Number of Studies Document Yoga’s Benefits for Depression

Is yoga research coming of age? An increasing number of studies now document the positive effects of yoga on depression. While early research reported on one study at a time, there is not a growing body of research reviews and meta-analyses now on the benefits of yoga for depression. These are types of studies that look at the benefits of yoga for depression and anxiety not just in one study, but summarized across a larger group of studies.

This was the case for a 2023 review and meta-analysis of 34 studies on the effects of yoga suffering from major depression disorder. Also referred to as clincial depression, major depressive disorder is characterized by a persistent low and depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness, disturbed sleep, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, and more.

The review study looked at the results of 35 randomized control trials on people suffering from clinical depression. The total number of people included 1,269 patients in the treatment groups and 1,072 in the control groups.

Across all the studies, the review found that yoga can indeed improve depressive symptoms and anxiety in patients with major depressive disorder. It also found that yoga was safe for this audience and widely accepted by participants.

Just as interesting, a much larger study, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal in 2024 looked at the benfits of yoga and other types of exercise over 218 unique studies with a total of 495 arms and 14,170 participants.

Compared with active controls (eg, usual care, placebo tablet), reductions in depression were found for several types of exercise, including yoga, walking or jogging, strength training, mixed aerobic exercises, and tai chi or qigong. According to the study, strength training and yoga appeared to be the best tolerated modalities, and benefits increased with the degree of intensity.

The meta-analysis concluded that exercise is an effective treatment for depression, with walking or jogging, yoga, and strength training more effective than other exercises. Exercise was equally beneficial for people with or without other health issues as well as participants with different levels of depression

Importantly, when it comes to yoga, the benefits for depression appears to be cumulative over time. A 2017-study, published in Psychological Medicine found no difference in the yoga group at the 10-week mark. However, after 6 months, over half of the participants in the weekly yoga classes group experienced a minimum 50% reduction in their depressive symptoms. They also reported both improved social functioning and overall health. The yoga participants showed fewer depression symptoms over the entire 3-6 month follow-up period.

Resources:
  1. The American Journal of Managed Care
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information

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