Research says Exercise is an Effective Treatment for Depression

Craig Stoltz Health Guide
  • A new study confirms with greater authority what other research has suggested: Exercise is an effective treatment for depression. There are a few significant details to know. Let's move in.


    Bottom line first


    A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that regular exercise, particularly in a structured group program, may work as well as medication in improving symptoms of major depression.


    This study in 50 words or less


    Researchers assigned 202 adults with major depresstion to one of four therapies: a group exercise program; home-based individual exercise; an antidepressant drug (Zoloft); or placebo. All three treatments outperformed placebo, with drug and group exercise doing about the same, and home-based doing nearly as well.

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    Yes, but. . .


    Studies of exercise programs are impossible to "blind," meaning the patients know what treatment they are getting. This reduces the power of such studies' conclusions.


    Just one anti-depressant drug was tested. Considerable data suggests that many patients are unresponsive to certain medications, but that other drugs, or a combination, will provide relief.


    The study lasted four months--long enough to determine whether the treatments lifted people out of major depression, but not sufficient to determine long-term benefits.


    Exercise and medication groups showed between 40 and 47 percent remission. But this study, like many on depression, showed about 30 percent remission in the placebo group.


    It's not clear why group exercise appeared more effective: better compliance, more intensity, social interaction; or some other factor.


    So what are you going to do about it?


    If you are being treated for depression, talk to your medical professional about whether exercise can be a useful treatment for you.


    If you are mildly depressed, dysthymic or have low mood, you may want to consider exercise as well. While this study looked at major depression, other studies have suggested exercise can benefit those with milder forms as well, as well as reduce risk of relapse.


    Learn more


    Our depression area has more information about depression treatments, and our diet and exercise area provides guidance on starting an exercise program.


Published On: September 21, 2007