exercise helps ease depression

New studies show exercise really helps depression

Can exercise help prevent or treat depression? This has been discussed in research articles for many years, with uncertain conclusions. However, now, in 2016, three large studies have been published, each strongly concluding that exercise does indeed work as a natural anti-depressant.

The three studies combined gathered data from over 1.1 million adult men and women. In one study, the researchers divided the participants into three groups based on their level of aerobic fitness. They found that men and women in the bottom 1/3 of fitness had a 75% greater chance of having received a diagnosis of depression, compared with those in the top 1/3 of fitness.

Another study wanted to learn if exercise might treat people already diagnosed with depression. The authors combined research from 25 previous studies involving people who were depressed. Some in these studies started exercise programs, and others did not.

The results showed that the exercise had a “large and significant effect” in decreasing depression. The results were especially good for those who did moderately strenuous exercise, such as jogging or at least fast walking.

The third study, released in February, tried to find out why exercise might have this effect. The study volunteers had blood drawn before and after exercise, with attention placed on hormones and other chemicals, such as endorphins, that affect how we are feeling. Generally, biomarkers that show a generalized state of inflammation in the body correlate with depression. This study showed that the hormones and inflammatory markers in the blood associated with depression were significantly decreased after exercise.

Depression treatment: exercise vs. anti-depressants

As noted in the Harvard Medical Publication “Exercise and Depression”, some research has shown that exercise programs were as effective as anti-depressant medication. However, medications worked faster than the exercise programs. But one way in which exercise was superior to medication was that the positive effects of exercise seemed to last longer than the beneficial effects of medication.

This is useful information for those who might want an alternative to anti-depressant medication. Also, people who take anti-depressant medication may get better results from their medicine if they also exercise. Any questions about anti-depressants should be discussed with your doctor, best a psychiatrist.

How much exercise?

The studies indicate that you need to do more than a small amount of exercise to get the anti-depressive effect. Fast walking for 15 minutes a day, five days a week did not seem to help so much. To really improve your mood through exercise, about 35 minutes of fast walking, running, or biking (or similar) five times a week was needed to see the effect. Or, if you only exercise three times a week, you should spend a full hour in each exercise session.

If you are depressed or know someone who is, getting aerobic exercise sounds like a great idea. Besides improving your mood, exercise will give you all the other benefits. Your cardiovascular system will be healthier, and you may well have a lower risk of cancer as well. Finally, those who exercise regularly usually look better and healthier than sedentary people, giving the extra benefit of higher self-esteem.

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