Exercise and depression: How working out can help fight depression
New research suggests that a walk round the block may be more beneficial to your mental health than popping a pill
A study just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concludes that exercise may be more effective than drugs in treating mild to moderate depression. The report by researchers at Freie University in Berlin found that just thirty minutes of exercise a day significantly improved the moods of patients who had been suffering from depression for nine months.
The 12 patients were asked to walk on a treadmill and to assess their moods before and after the ten-day exercise programme. Results showed that over half the patients who took part felt less depressed.
Physical activity has the same effect as antidepressants, explains Dr Fernando Dimeo who led the research. Aerobic exercise stimulates neurotransmitters in our brain to produce serotonin, an endorphin which make us feel good. And exercise, unlike antidepressants, has no negative side effects.
One of the main advantages of using exercise to boost your mood is that the effect is instant. Antidepressants usually take between two and three weeks to kick in, which can be a long time if youre feeling really blue. And exercise, unlike antidepressants, is also not chemically addictive.
Another study done by Exeter University's sports science department is monitoring a football team that consists of manic depressives and schizophrenics to see if exercise will positively impact their mental health. So far their initial findings show a significant improvement in players' moods.
Dr Robert Lefever, GP and director of Promis Recovery Centre in Kent, sees an increasing number of people coming into treatment addicted to antidepressants. He claims that a third of the adult population in the UK is taking a prescribed mood-altering drug such as an antidepressant or tranquilliser when they may not need to be.
It is better to avoid using a drug if possible can because it can interfere with brain biochemistry, and our knowledge of how drugs affect the brain is in its infancy, says Dr Lefever. Its really like prescribing heroin for toothache. It gets rid of the symptom but doesnt address the root of the problem, he says.