A new study involving 126 participants who still suffered from depression after treatment with antidepressants (SSRIs) has found that exercise — even 30 minutes of regular walking — can help. Dr. Madhukar H. Trivedi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, decided to study the possibility of prescribing exercise as a treatment for depression after patients reported feeling better after taking a stroll, says the New York Times.
Patients who do not respond to an antidepressant are often prescribed another medication (lithium or an antipsychotic) but these can be expensive and come with side effects including weight gain. Exercise, as Dr. Trivedi notes, has “nonexistent” side effects and improves cardiovascular health and other benefits — and, especially if you just go out the door for a walk, it’s cheap.
The volunteers were divided into two groups, with one assigned “gentler” exercise (walking at a 3 miles per hour pace for about 10 minutes or the cycling equivalent) or a more intense regimen (walking at a 4 miles per hour pace for about 30 minutes or the cycling equivalent). The latter exercise regime is actually currently recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
29.5 percent of participants who stuck to the 30-minute exercise regimen for four months (while still taking an antidepressant) achieved remission; that’s almost a third of the participants. Dr. Trivedi has published his results in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
There are some caveats:
One is practical. More patients improved in the group that completed the longer, brisker workouts than in the group assigned the easier exercise, but more of them also dropped out of the study. “We need to find ways to support people’s efforts to exercise,” Dr. Trivedi said. “It’s not going to be enough to casually say, ‘Go for a walk.’” Exercise, if it’s to be medicinal in depression treatments, will have to be monitored, he said, so it can’t be shrugged off.
Even then, many people will not respond. Almost 70 percent of the volunteers in this study did not achieve full remission. Failure rates were particularly high for women with a family history of depression, perhaps as a result of some as yet unknown genetic quirk. And women in that group who did recover were more likely to succeed using the lighter exercise program than the more strenuous routine.
But exercise as a treatment seems a potential win-win option. I’ve had some mild depression and just getting up and doing something helps. Others near and dear to me who’ve coped with unyielding depression have found that there’s nothing like a good long bike ride or run to get your mind away (albeit temporarily) from its woes. Plus, after that ride or run, you feel at least a bit of a “boost” from having accomplished something. Certainly the price of this treatment is right — and it’s heartening to know that there can be ways to treat depression that don’t call for taking little blue pills.
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