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The Link Between Exercise and Depression

written by: Chrissie • edited by: Angela Atkinson • updated: 10/27/2010

What is the link between exercise and depression? Learn about a study which confirms that exercise treatment works to eliminate major depressive disorder in diagnosed patients.

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    We all know that exercise is good for not only our waistlines, but also our health. We read and hear about the many health benefits of exercise every day. Sure, it’s a great goal to want to fit into that cute dress for New Year's Eve, but while you are working towards that, you are also increasing your overall health.

    The many cardiovascular benefits of regular physical activity are enough reason to begin a fitness program, but did you know that by engaging in exercise you are also increasing your overall mental health as well?

    It is proven that regular exercise can improve mental health. Stress is alleviated when you are working out because exercise combats the negative effects of stress. You will also sleep better, have more energy, and add to your overall quality of life when you exercise. But evidence also suggests that daily activity will help both prevent and treat many nervous system problems and reduce or eliminate the effects of depression.

    Researcher Jim Blumenthal from Duke University has taken anecdotal reports from people that suggested they simply ‘felt better’ when they exercised regularly. By ‘felt better’ these individuals meant that they simply enjoyed life more. Dr. Blumenthal used these anecdotal reports to launch an investigative study to see if exercise would benefit individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

    He began by examining patients considered ‘not depressed’ and found that regular exercise reduced any potential depressive symptoms. He then took a group of diagnosed depressed patients and divided them into three groups.

    For a period of four months, one group received medication treatment for their depression, one received exercise, and the final group received a combination of those two treatments.

    Results from this study showed that patients that had been given the exercise treatment alone reported the same amount of improvement over their symptoms as did the remaining two groups. In fact, 60% of those patients were no longer considered clinically depressed by the time the study ended.

    In comparison, of the group that received both medication and exercise as a treatment, 65% were not depressed after four months.

    What does this tell us? Quite simply, there is a direct link between exercise and depression. Dr. Blumenthal acknowledges that those with major depressive disorder should not rely on exercise alone to treat their depression. However, he does suggest that exercise is a wonderful addition to any treatment for depression. Exercise WILL alleviate depression symptoms and may even treat depression completely.

    Does exercise improve one’s quality of life? Definitely! And for many, it may be the best answer to combating a debilitating mental health condition.

    The Psychology of Fitness

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