Exercise Should Be Prescribed For Depression Says Researchers

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If you suffer from depression and anxiety then probably the best thing you can do to ease your depression is exercise says a new study.

According to Jasper Smits, who is the director of Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, exercise can have tremendous benefits for mental health and the more therapists there are that are trained in exercise therapy the better off depressed patients would be.

Smits and psychology professor Michael Otto from Boston University analysed previous studies related to exercise and mental health and found that exercise could effectively reduce depression and anxiety.

If you suffer from mild to moderate depression and seek advice from your doctor then it is very likely that you will be offered some anti-depressants and perhaps some form of therapy, however, according to Smits, exercise can fill the gap for people who don’t have access to treatments, who are afraid of the stigma associated with mental health issues or who can’t afford treatment. Even for those who are already receiving treatment, exercise could help their recovery.

These were the main points:

  • People who exercise report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Exercise lowers stress levels and reduces anger
  • Exercise can act a bit like an antidepressant and influence neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Exercise can reduce fear associated with anxiety such as pounding heart and rapid breathing
  • Exercise improves mood

Provided the individual is in good health otherwise, Smits recommends moderate exercise for around two and a half hours a week (for example walking) or an hour and a half of more intense exercise (running).

According to Smits the benefits are felt immediately. After only 25 minutes of exercise stress levels are reduced and mood improves and energy levels are increased. However, the one barrier to this would be motivation on the part of the individual.

“Therapists can help their patients take specific, achievable steps,” he says.

“This isn’t about working out five times a week for the next year. It’s about exercising for 20 or 30 minutes and feeling better today.”

Smits and Otto have written a guidebook for mental health professionals called “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders,” with an accompanying patient workbook (Oxford University Press, September 2009).

The researchers presented their findings in Baltimore at the annual conference of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America.

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