Whether exercise or medication is best for depression or anxiety depends on several factors.

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When treating depression or anxiety, running may be just as effective as antidepressants, according to new research. But experts say the solution may not be so straightforward for every person.

Because of the prevalence of depression and anxiety and the consequences on health, researchers from Amsterdam looked at the best way to mitigate these effects, and whether antidepressants or lifestyle intervention would have different effects on mental health as well as certain aspects of physical health.

The research is the first “to compare effects of antidepressants with running exercises for anxiety, depression and overall health,” according to a news release for a study presented October 6 at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s annual conference. The study published earlier this year in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“Antidepressants are generally safe and effective. They work for most people,” said study coauthor Brenda Penninx, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Vrije University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in a news release. “We know that not treating depression at all leads to worse outcomes, so antidepressants are generally a good choice. Nevertheless, we need to extend our treatment arsenal as not all patients respond to antidepressants or are willing to take them.”

The researchers studied the effects of running therapy versus taking an antidepressant medication — in this case, escitalopram — on these health factors among 141 patients with depression, anxiety disorder or both. During a 16-week trial, members of the antidepressant group took their medication, while those in the running group aimed for two to three, supervised 45-minute group running sessions per week.

After the trial period, about 44% of both groups experienced improvement in depression or anxiety symptoms — showing the medication and running were equally effective, the study found. The running group also saw improvements in weight, waist size, blood pressure and heart health, while the medication group slightly deteriorated in these measures.

“We have long viewed exercise as an adjunct support to more formal treatments like psychotherapy or medication,” said Karmel Choi, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, via email. Choi wasn’t involved in the research.