If you’re struggling with depression, you’re probably struggling to get off the couch and get motivated too, research suggests you need to be physically active if you want to overcome this mental.
But how much exercise do you need, and how often?
A recent study further solidified the notion that exercise is essential to depression treatment; patients were assigned antidepressant medication, exercise, or a combination of both. At the end of the study, the combination treatment did not appear to provide any additional benefit compared to just exercise alone. In fact, when researchers looked at 6-month relapse rates, the exercise-only group did better than the combination group. Only 9 percent had relapsed compared to 30 percent in both of the other groups.
“Despite the substantial evidence supporting the use of exercise in the treatment of MDD (major depressive disorder), previous studies have not provided a clear indication of the proper dose of exercise needed to elicit an antidepressant effect, wrote Chad Rethorst, PhD, and Madhukar Trivedi, MD in a 2013 statement.
But Rethorst and Trivedi wanted to change that. They conducted a number of clinical trials, eventually determining the best exercise plan for someone with depression was 3-5 days/week of rigorous exercise (preferably aerobic) for 45-60 minutes (e.g. jogging or biking, or using a treadmill or stationary bike). Ideally, individuals should try to achieve a heart rate that is 50 to 85 percent of the individuals maximum heart rate (HRmax).
For people who prefer resistance training, the experts recommend a variety of upper and lower body exercises – three sets of eight repetitions at 80 percent of the maximum weight that the person can lift one time.
If the routine is kept up for 10-12 weeks, individuals with depression can experience the same benefits as someone being treated with medication only–with results often seen as early as 4 weeks into the routine.
“Anti-depressant medications that affect levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine appear to reduce the negative feelings and thoughts associated with depression, as well as many of the physical symptoms, such as changes in appetite and sleep, fatigue, muscle tension, and soreness,” stated the study. “But people react differently to medications, seeing changes in some areas but not others. Some dont respond to these medications at all. Exercise can enhance the benefits of antidepressant medications, and even produce similar results.”
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Psychology Today’s Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., indicates the findings aren’t surprising from an evolutionary standpoint; our ancestors, she explained, ate natural foods, were active all day long, and had sunlight exposure in the morning along with a lack of light in the evenings–all things that can stave off depression.
” I doubt they were depressed very often, or for very long,” she wrote. “If you feel lost regarding your own struggles with depression, try to emulate that lifestyle more closely. When it comes to health, Mother Nature often knows best.”