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Exercise Can Be Key Component for Fighting Depression

Studies show regular exercise just as effective as anti-depressants

  Block HSMASON, Ohio (May 8, 2014) – Those fighting mild to moderate depression may find that regular, intense exercise may help.

A 2013 report released by Harvard University reviewed studies stretching back to 1981 and concluded that regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression and can even play a supporting role in treating severe depression. The report may give hope to individuals who want to fight mild to moderate depression without the use of medication, however, the key to doing so lies in the proper understanding of exercise, said Dale Block, MD, of Premier Family Care of Mason.

“Research tells us that it is possible to fight depression with exercise, but it is important to note that in order for someone to get the full benefit, they have to be involved in rigorous activity at least five times a week,” said Dr. Block who practices with Premier HealthNet.

Harvard researchers found that depression can’t be fought with just a casual walk a couple times a week, but rather, it has to be a more methodical, intense routine. This means fast walking for about 35 minutes a day, five times a week or 60 minutes a day, three times a week. Walking fast for only 15 minutes a day or doing stretching routines three times a week wasn’t enough to have a positive effect on depression, the study said.

One of the studies – published in the Archives of Internal Medicine – found that up to 70 percent of individuals dealing with depression saw their mood improve after a 16-week aerobic exercise program. Those who continued the routine maintained their improved mood up to six weeks after the study was completed compared to those who didn’t.

Depression affects many Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that one in 10 adults report being depressed. Depression can be mild, moderate or severe and presents itself through a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can include changes in one’s behavioral, physical or emotional well-being such as irritability, overwhelming sadness, a sense of hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies, decreased energy, and changes in mood and weight. Another common symptom is nondescript body pains, Dr. Block said.

So what is it about exercise that helps fight the blues? Dr. Block said the most effective component of exercise is its ability to release endorphins in our body. Endorphins are chemicals that not only improve the body’s natural immunity but also increase one’s mood and can help reduce the body’s perception of pain.

Dr. Block said it is also important for individuals to keep the severity of the depression and its origin in mind. Individuals can have biological depression – where it is a result of a chemical imbalance – or situational depression – where it is caused by an event in life such as a loss of a loved one or onset of a chronic illness. Situational depression is the only type that can be treated by exercise alone.

In most cases, however, medication may play a role in the treatment of depression. That’s because while exercise is effective, individuals often need help with the negative symptoms of depression before they can develop a desire to exercise in the first place.

“Someone who is dealing with situational depression may need the help of an anti-depressant during the first six to nine months while they are working on their lifestyle changes,” Dr. Block said. “After a period of time, we can wean our patients off of their medication with the hope that the lifestyle changes will help maintain the healthy balance they need.”

Other than medication, Dr. Block suggests that individuals seek a coach to help encourage them with regular exercise.

“It can be a family member or friend – anyone who will help them stay on course until the exercise becomes routine and they are able to work through their symptoms of depression,” Dr. Block said. “Patients eventually discover that exercise – along with eating healthy and getting a good amount of sleep – is good for them.”

For more information about depression and exercise or to find a Premier HealthNet physician visit:

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