Exercise versus antidepressants

An initial study conducted in late 1999 found that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week was as effective in relieving short-term major depression as antidepressants. The study, which compared an exercise group with a group that took only medication and another group that combined both therapies, showed that the positive impact of exercise alone was comparable to the other two treatments.

A follow-up study that tracked the original participants for six months after the initial 16-week trial showed even better results. This study, which concluded in September 2000, found that the people who continued their exercise program were less prone to experiencing a relapse of depression. Findings showed that the more an individual exercised, the less likely she or he was to see symptoms of depression return.

Interestingly, patients who combined medication and exercise did not respond as well as those who simply worked out. Researchers say the result might be attributed to the more active role those in the exercise group were taking in their treatment. When participants began feeling better, they were more motivated to be active, making them feel even better and engaging them in a positive cycle.

While these preliminary findings are welcome news for depression sufferers, further research needs to take place to determine exactly why vigorous activity is effective and which types of depression can best be relieved by it.