Can those with mild to clinical depression still reap the endless benefits of exercise?

Whether you’re one of the millions of Americans that deals with depression on a regular basis or you just know someone that does, I’m sure you’ve had some unanswered questions like:

  • Does exercise help with depression?
  • How effective is it?
  • How long do the effects last?
  • Is there a method of exercise that’s most effective in decreasing depression symptoms?
  • Isn’t an antidepressant easier?

Any of these questions sound familiar? Well, I’ve decided to dive into the research and do some of the leg work for you (pun absolutely intended). Here’s what I found:

1. Those who are sedentary are more likely to suffer from depression.
Getting out and being active decreases your odds of ever even experiencing a depressive episode [4,5], so if prevention is the name, exercise is the game. Start with just 20–30 minutes of moderate exercise most, if not all, days of the week.

2. Activity level is a better predictor of mental health in women.
Exercise seems to have a greater effect on women and those over 40 years old [3]. So if you’re a female or you just joined the 40 and over club, then it’s even more important for you to stay active in order to nourish your mental health and help ward off depression symptoms.

3. Antidepressants work faster, but not better.
Are you looking for a quick solution? Then exercise might not be the best way to start. But if you’re looking to decrease your antidepressant dosage or reduce your symptoms of depression, some studies have shown that by 12 weeks into treatment, exercise was just as effective as a prescription antidepressant [2]. Be sure to always consult your physician before stopping or adjusting your medication.

4. Using exercise as a treatment yields longer lasting effects.
For long-term relief from depression, exercise has been shown to have better lasting results than antidepressants [1]. Studies have shown that even after treatment had ceased, those who had exercised regularly showed far fewer signs of depression and scored better on all assessments.

5. No specific exercise method is superior to another.
Getting active is all that really matters in reducing the effects of depression. Whether you’re running, walking, or even strength training, no difference has been shown in the effectiveness of treatment [6]. Relapse was shown to be highest in high-intensity exercise programs, so if you’re trying physical activity as a treatment plan, walking on a regular basis might just be the best place to start.

So, what’s the take home message?

  • Exercise is an effective treatment method to beat the blues.
  • Start small. Long-term commitment to an exercise program will be far more beneficial than constantly relapsing.
  • You don’t have to go big. Start with a manageable intensity level like a 15-minute walk every day during your lunch break.
  • Discuss your exercise plan with your physician, and don’t ever start, stop, or change your medication dosage without consulting your physician first.
  • Just get out and get active. Those who are physically active tend to lead happier, healthier lives.

Good luck and stay fit!

Becca Capell
iFit Head Trainer