We all have times when will feel ‘low’ or in a ‘bad mood’ and it is widely accepted in the world of fitness and medicine that exercise can help to lift our mood and ‘re-energise’ us, with physical activity being the key to good health, both physically and mentally. But does exercise help depression?
As early as the 1970s, exercise and depression have been intrinsically linked, when observation studies showed that Americans who exercised regularly were less likely to be depressed or to become depressed in the future.
These claims have been consistently repeated since the 1970s. For example, in 1999 researchers at Duke University carried out randomised trials on patients with depression. The trials proved that the symptoms of adults suffering from depression who participated in an aerobic-exercise plan were lifted as effectively as anti-depressant drugs such as Sertraline.
However counteracting the seemingly well-established theory that exercise can be as a powerful tool to combat depression as drugs, is a new study that was published in the June 2012 issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The BMJ’s article sparked a flurry of contention in the media that “exercise doesn’t help depression.”
So how did the BMJ come up with such a controversial slant on what is generally regarded as being a great form of ‘medicine’ to treat depression?
The BMJ researchers tested the medical intervention known as TREAD (Treatment of Depression with Physical Activity). According to the BMJ report, patients participating in TREAD are provided with a trained professional who gives “individually tailored support and encouragement to engage in physical activity.”
Determined to prove the ‘effectiveness’ of TREAD, the research involved 361 adults aged 18 – 69, who had all been diagnosed with depression. The patients were put into two groups, one which received their usual treatments for depression, such as counselling and anti-depressant drugs, and the other which received their usual treatments plus TREAD, who had to engage in moderate to vigorous activity for 150 minutes per week. .
The patients who were involved in the TREAD program had to record their exercise data in diaries as well as wearing accelerometers to provide more accurate data.
The conclusion of the study was that patients in the TREAD intervention group were no better off than those who received the ‘conventional’ care and that there was “no evidence that the intervention group reported a change in mood by the eight and 12 month follow-up points.”
The BMJ research therefore tallies with the belief that although exercise can help lift moods and create feelings of mental wellbeing, for the clinically depressed exercise has little effect.
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