Walking away from depression: Leveraging physical activity to treat symptoms and improve well-being in individuals with major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder (“MDD”) is a chronic condition characterized by sadness and loss of pleasure. MDD is a leading cause of disability (WHO, 2020), and costs the Canadian economy billions each year (CAMH, 2021; CASHC, 2016). In 2016, the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatment recognized exercise as a first-line treatment for MDD. This statement should have revolutionized care: not only does exercise reduce symptoms, but it also improves health and quality of life. However, the past five years have seen little progress in “mainstreaming” exercise as a treatment option. This means patients are being denied access to a safe and effective treatment.

We are left with a question: How can we get more people with MDD more active more often?

The purpose of my postdoctoral fellowship is to answer this question. I will oversee a program of research that examines how British Columbia’s public health system can provide exercise as a treatment for MDD. I will investigate barriers to uptake; strategies to overcome barriers; and engage in program development and evaluation. This research will be conducted in collaboration with patients, healthcare providers, and communities to ensure it is feasible, relevant, and sustainable.