Exercise can help treat depression

Recent studies have shown that aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or bicycling, can be useful in the treatment of depression.

What is depression?
Clinical depression is a serious illness that affects your feelings, thoughts, behavior, and physical well-being. It can interfere with your ability to work or even function in normal everyday situations.

Depression tends to be an episodic illness. People who have suffered one bout of depression are likely to experience another at some time in their lives. Because the underlying causes of depression are not well known, treatment tends to be directed toward resolving the current crisis. Then, when a depressed person is functioning normally again, all or part of the treatment may be discontinued.

Once antidepressant medications and talk therapy are withdrawn, the depressed person may experience a sense of a lack of support. They may live with the fear that another episode could strike at any time. It is a frightening prospect. Under these circumstances, a stressful event—or no apparent cause at all—can trigger depression.

How can exercise help?
Exercise is an alternative therapy that can keep working even when a person has discontinued all traditional therapies. Research shows that exercise is a helpful, cost-effective treatment plan for mild to moderate depression. In one study of older adults suffering from major depressive disorder, subjects were divided into three groups:

After 16 weeks, it appeared that exercise was almost as effective as medication in reducing the symptoms of depression.

Why does exercise help?
Some people think that the beta endorphins the body secretes during exercise may improve mood, but there is no solid proof of this. Researchers know that physical activity can brighten mood, but can only speculate why this is true. Some researchers suggest that the ability to do the exercise—the accomplishment of the task—may help to reduce negative thinking and increase a depressed person's feelings of self-sufficiency and self-esteem. Further research is being done in this area.

Test Your Knowledge: Exercise can help treat depression