Exercise can be as good as or better than antidepressants for treating depression

Exercise can be as good as or better than antidepressants for treating depressionMichael Otto, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of psychology, says the effects of exercise on treating depression rivals antidepressants in head-to-head studies, reports Susan Seligson in her April 2010 article on the Boston University website BU Today. Otto says many clinical trials show that people with major depression who regularly exercise get better at the same rate as they do with antidepressants.

A passionate advocate of physical activity for treating depression, Otto recommends that clinicians consider exercise as important and valid a treatment for depression as antidepressant drugs and talk therapies. He is one of a group of researchers calling for psychologists to include exercise programs in treating people with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

This article summarizes some significant research findings showing exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants for the treatment of depression, and in some cases even better.

Dr. Mercola reports on the effectiveness of exercise for treating depression

In 2005 Dr. Joseph Mercola reported on his website Mercola.com that:

“More and more researchers and physicians are coming to the conclusion that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of major depression.

… Research on the subject has demonstrated that:

  • 10 months of regular, moderate exercise outperformed a leading antidepressant (Zoloft) in easing symptoms in young adults
  • 30-minute aerobic workouts done three to five times a week cut depressive symptoms by 50 percent in young adults”

In 2001 Mercola.com said that:

Researchers found that walking for 30 minutes each day quickly improved the patients’ symptoms — faster, in fact, than antidepressant drugs typically do.

The results indicate that, in selected patients with major depression, aerobic training can produce a substantial improvement in symptoms in a short time.

… In one study that compared exercise with antidepressants among older adults, investigators found that physical activity was the more effective depression-fighter.”

Studies of exercise vs antidepressants for treating depression by Professor James A. Blumenthal and colleagues

In the 1990s Professor James A. Blumenthal and colleagues studied 156 adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) aged 50 years and older. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups for 16 weeks: 1) 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week, 2) the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) or 3) exercise and medication.

The study’s leaders concluded that “after 16 weeks of treatment exercise was equally effective in reducing depression among patients with MDD.” The study’s results were published in 1999 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Blumenthal and his team followed-up the same participants for six more months. The results found that the people who continued to exercise after completing the initial trial, but did not take Zoloft, were much less likely to have their depression return than people in either of the other two groups. Only 8% of patients in the exercise-only group had their depression return, while 38% of the drug-only group and 31% of the exercise-plus-drug group relapsed.

Duke University reports that Blumenthal said:

“We had assumed that exercise and medication together would have had an additive effect, but this turned out not to be the case.”

Between October 2000 and November 2005, Blumenthal and colleagues did another study to compare the effectiveness of exercise with the antidepressant Zoloft on MDD. This time 202 adults with MDD were randomly assigned to one of four groups for 16 weeks: 1) supervised exercise in a group setting, 2) home-based exercise, 3) Zoloft, or 4) placebo (dummy) pill.

At the end of the study the researchers’ concluded that the effectiveness of exercise “in patients seems generally comparable with patients receiving antidepressant medication and both tend to be better than the placebo in patients with MDD.” The American Psychosomatic Society published the study’s results in 2007.

Concluding comments

Moderate exercise has fewer side effects than antidepressants and it can prevent and treat depression. If you haven’t exercised for a while, before starting to exercise discuss with a relevant health professional a suitable exercise program. This is to avoid any injuries and/or health problems that might arise from choosing an unsuitable exercise program.

Blumenthal says:

“For people who at least want to consider exercise as a possible treatment [for depression], and for whom exercise is safe, it’s definitely worth a shot.”

written by Nyomi Graef

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2 Responses to “Exercise can be as good as or better than antidepressants for treating depression”

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