Exciting News About Exercise and Depression
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Exciting News About Exercise and Depression!
In February the medical world received big news about exercise and mental health that could be a game changer. Of course we all know that exercise helps depression and many studies have been published demonstrating this fact. We have even covered this issue several times in this Newsletter. So what is so exciting about this new study?
In this study researchers completed the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken on the subject of exercise and mental health. A compilation and review of 1,039 separate studies were included, and the results show that physical activity is not only effective for depression and anxiety, but actually more effective than drugs or psychotherapy as a first line treatment. As a result of this study, we are reaching critical mass on this subject. No longer can health care professionals ignore physical activity and exercise as legitimate first line therapy.
Dr. Singh, the co-author of the study stated that
“Physical activity is known to help improve mental health,"
"Our review shows that physical activity interventions can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations."
He argues that exercise should be
"widely adopted as a first-choice treatment."
Why is This Important? Aren't There Plenty
of Other Effective Treatments?
Treatment Isn't Effective if You Can't Access It.
One in eight people around the world live with some kind of mental health issue, according to the World Health Organization, and most of these people don’t have access to adequate mental health care. This is true even here in the US. In a sad case recently, a mother fighting depression reached out for medical help and was given the first available appointment, which was 6 weeks out. She committed suicide 2 weeks before her appointment. Wait lists for mental health care are the norm in most major US cities, and rural areas are even worse.
Treatment Isn't Effective if You Can't Tolerate It.
Had that poor mother made it to her appointment, she undoubtedly would have been put on an antidepressant. Unfortunately, most patients don't tolerate antidepressants. The lead researcher in a Lancet study stated that the combination of slow benefits (6 months for full effectiveness) and side-effects of antidepressants, (headaches, indigestion, dizziness, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, etc,) explains why half of the patients stop antidepressants within 2 months. (Lancet Psychiatry.2014; 1: 103-104). Another researcher found that 80% of patients quit antidepressants by 4 months. (Eur Psychiatry 2010 May;25(4):206-13).
Exercise is Tolerable, Accessible & Affordable For All.
Having a treatment as accessible and effective as exercise, can be lifesaving for many people. Primary care providers, relying on this study can now prescribe exercise to start immediately. Perhaps that mother would still be with her husband and kids today, if she had been put on an exercise plan immediately by her own doctor while waiting to see the mental health specialist.
The researchers in this landmark study stated:
“We also found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercise such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga."
The researchers emphasized that"
"the research shows that it doesn’t take much for exercise to make a positive change to your mental health.”
Insurance companies might figure out that a gym membership is cheaper than antidepressants, some of which are over $500/month!
Exercise Has Side-Benefits!
Unfortunately, antidepressants have a multitude of side-effects. But the good news is that exercise has side-benefits! As you improve your mental health with exercise Just about every other part of your health will improve at the same time. Exercise helps heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, diabetes, and obesity.
Exercise Should be a Public Health Priority.
Another reason this study is so important is to help public health experts connect the dots. Mental health issues, including suicide are at all time highs in this country. At the same time Americans have been decreasing their physical activity. This is a very bad combination and we need to take steps to correct this, which requires that we first see the connection. The current high rate of depression and suicide may very well be the result of our decreasing levels of physical activity.
Are Teenagers Getting the Benefit of Exercise?
I wonder how many depressed teenagers would be doing better if they had to do the amount of walking we all did when we were young? The kids today take a bus to school, or their parents drive them everywhere. How many kids might improve their mental and physical health with a daily walking program? Walking is considered moderate level aerobic exercise and this study confirmed moderate level aerobic exercise to be effective for relieving both depression and anxiety symptoms.
Family and Friends Can Help With Exercise.
Exercise is a valuable therapy that family and friends can easily support by exercising with the person that needs the therapy. We all say "Let me know if I can do anything to help." Perhaps we should say "Let's meet up in the morning for a walk." Or "Would you like to join the gym with me?" Studies have shown that most people are more likely to stick with an exercise plan if they have somebody that exercises with them. The neat thing about giving this type of support to somebody is that you not only help somebody get the potentially lifesaving exercise they need, you also get the personal benefits of exercise in your own life. A real Win Win!
Are You Having a Hard Time
Starting an Exercise Program?
Starting an exercise program can be as simple as walking out your front door and following your nose for 5 or 10 minutes, then turn around and head back home. Get in the habit of doing that 5 days a week. If you are typical, you will see benefits the first week, physically and emotionally. After you get the walking habit established you may need to increase it a little to make sure you are getting the correct amount. The recommended minimum amount for adults is 30 minutes of brisk walking, or the equivalent, 5 days per week, or 15 minutes of jogging, or the equivalent, 5 days per week.
Exercise is too important, and the benefits too great, to not have it in your life. If you are not on an exercise plan, start one today!
Take care and BE HEALTHY!
Read The Study Yourself:
Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety
and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine
Published Online First: 16 February 2023
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