Exercise is essential for physical and mental health. It provides an outlet for releasing negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, and irritability. By stimulating the production of neurochemicals in the brain, such as norepinephrine, it can help to lift you out of a depressive funk.
Physical activity should be a part of any therapy for depression.
Even if used alone, exercise can often bring startling results. Studies show that jogging for 30 minutes three times a week can be as effective as psychotherapy in treating depression. Any exercise is fine; the more energetic and aerobic, the better.
Clinical Studies on the Effectiveness of Exercise
In a recent study (September 2000), researchers have found that exercise works at least as well as Zoloft, a popular prescription drug, in treating clinical depression and keeping the condition from returning.
Scientists at Duke University Medical Center tested exercise against Zoloft, and found the ability of either -- or a combination of the two -- to reduce or eliminate symptoms were about the same. They found that exercise seemed to do a better job of keeping symptoms from coming back after the depression lifted. The patients in this study had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. This report followed earlier research in which 156 adult volunteers had taken part in a four-month comparison of exercise, Zoloft or a combination. The exercise primarily consisted of brisk walking, stationary bike riding, or jogging for 30 minutes, plus a 10-minute warm-up and 5-minute cool-down, three times a week.
At Purdue University , psychologists D. D. Lobstein and A. H. Ismail found that middle-aged professors who got a good deal of exercise were much less depressed than the most sedentary of their colleagues. But when the sedentary professors were put on a fitness program and followed it over four years, their depression didn't lift-suggesting that their depressed mood may have led to their inactivity , rather than the other way around. Exercise alone probably won't do much for someone who has been depressed for a long time. Nor will it help a person gripped by an acute episode of severe depression.
However, exercise can be helpful for people with more moderate forms of depression. In a well-known study, psychiatrist John Griest and his associates at the University of Wisconsin assigned 24 clinic patients with moderate depression to either an exercise program or one of two widely used forms of treatment. In the two standard treatment groups, therapists met with the patients once a week; in the exercise group, patients went jogging with a trainer three times a week for 45 to 60 minutes at a time.
A second study found similar results with 60 subjects divided between exercise (walking and jogging), meditation training, and group psychotherapy. Although all treatments were equally effective at first, a follow-up three months after the end of treatment showed the exercisers and meditators had made further gains, while those in group psychotherapy had a tendency to relapse.
These experiments conclude that exercise is as good as or better than standard medical treatment for moderate depression.
Before you begin an exercise routine, you should have a complete physical examination. If you have not exercised regularly for some time, begin slowly and gradually increase both the intensity and duration of your workout. If you experience any unusual pain or dizziness, stop exercising and consult your physician.
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