Published: 19-10-2018 15:38 | Updated: 15-05-2019 14:59

Three questions to Mats Hallgren, co-author of a meta-review about exercise as treatment for mental health issues

Mats Hallgren, assistant professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences, is one of the authors of the meta-review of existing research that resulted in new guidelines issued from the European Psychiatric Association (EPA), to promote exercise as an additional treatment for severe mental health conditions.

Mats Hallgren.
Mats Hallgren, researcher at the Department of Public Health Sciences.

What are the most important results from your review?

“Our meta-review shows that physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms with effects comparable to those of antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Importantly, it can also improve physical fitness, thus reducing the risk of somatic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, which are highly prevalent in this population. For schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, our findings indicate that aerobic exercise can reduce psychiatric symptoms, improve cognition and physical fitness. Moderate to vigorous physical activity performed 3 times per week is recommended, but we also note that light exercise and less frequent exercise can also have benefits.”

How could your review influence patient care and treatment?

“Our review is more than a summary of the current evidence. A key recommendation is that physical activity should be integrated into mainstream treatment practice. This recommendation is supported by the European Psychiatric Society, and from leading researchers in the field. Thus, our Position Statement represents an important shift in thinking around mental health treatment.”

How can this new knowledge contribute to improving human health?

“Severe mental health problems impact most areas of a person's life. Mental and physical health are inseparably linked, so treatments which can improve both components hold considerable promise in reducing the burden of mental ill-health. Supervised physical activity is generally feasible and safe. Most patients find it empowering.”


EPA guidance on physical activity as a treatment for severe mental illness: a meta-review of the evidence and Position Statement from the European Psychiatric Association (EPA), supported by the International Organization of Physical Therapists in Mental Health (IOPTMH).
Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Hallgren M, Firth J, Veronese N, Solmi M, et al
Eur. Psychiatry 2018 10;54():124-144