Millions of people suffer from depression. For most people, a variety of antidepressants are prescribed which need to be taken for life.
Even though drugs may be effective, they also cause undesirable side effects.
The majority of people with depression would prefer not to take a drug for their illness.
Many non-drug treatments have been proposed over the past two decades to help reverse depression, and one of them is exercise. Many health care providers encourage some type of exercise as adjunct therapy when treating depression.(1)
Now a British study reveals that combining exercise with conventional treatment for depression does not help with the recovery.
The British researchers followed 361 patients for a year and found no difference between depressed patients who received only conventional treatment and those who received conventional treatment with a structured exercise program. (2)
Just a few years ago, many European countries adopted exercise at least three times a week as an adjunct therapy for depression. At that time it was widely believed that increased physical activity could help people with depression.
This study is a major disappointment because everyone was hoping that exercise could lift depression. The essential message from this study is that exercise is not harmful but it does not help people with severe depression.
So what should the depressed patient do?
The message for all consumers is that exercise is not harmful and one should not stop doing it. Exercise has a lot of physical benefits in terms of lowering blood pressure, controlling blood sugar and lowering risk of heart disease.
Moreover exercise helps people lose weight which can boost self-confidence and increase self-esteem.
It is important to know that depressed people who take antidepressant medications often gain weight and hence exercise should still be a part of their daily living activity.
Dimaier J et al. Non-pharmacological treatment of depressive disorders: a review of evidence-based treatment options. Rev Recent Clin Trials. 2012 May;7(2):141-9.