Aerobic exercise fights off depression


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Think twice about using medication to cure depression. There’s a cheaper and healthier option.

Researchers at Berlin’s Free University have found that just 30 minutes of daily exercise on a treadmill substantially improved the moods of their patients who had major depression.

While it was only a small study — only 12 patients and 10 of whom had been treated previously with two different antidepressants without improvement — the results were striking and were reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The spirits of a depressed person are seldom elevated when reviewing the various treatments available. The pharmaceutical companies are bedeviled by unpleasant side effects and psychological counseling usually involves multiple and expensive office visits.

So, it’s encouraging to hear that there is a simple, supplementary treatment that has no side effects if carried out intelligently, is very inexpensive, and has health benefits that extend beyond the psyche.

The researchers were spurred to evaluate depressed patients after noticing mood improvement in bone-marrow transplant patients. They took part in an earlier study of the effects of exercise on their physical performance.

Other physicians found that exercise resulted in similar mood uplifting in depressed patients. These findings should not be totally unexpected since it has been known for a long time that exercise prompts the release of endorphin and other biochemical agents that impact moods.

Exercise is by no means a cure for everything. Some patients failed to show any improvement and others only had slight relief of their symptoms.

One study group concluded: “In selected patients with major depression, aerobic training can produce a substantial improvement in symptoms in a short time.”

This is encouraging news since antidepressants can take anywhere from two to four weeks before any therapeutic effect is noted. In some patients, no improvement is ever shown.

If exercise can benefit people who are clinically depressed, it certainly can help everyone else cope with their day-to-day problems.

A Mayo Clinic newsletter reported findings in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity that showed regular exercise improved mood in people 65 and older. The optimal combination for mood enhancement was strength training mixed with aerobics or other types of exercise.

The Journal of Aging found the most consistent improvement in mood among the elderly was with low-intensity exercise done three days a week, but for at least 45 minutes or more a session. 

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