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Can Exercise Help Treat Depression?

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For decades people with depression have been led to believe that only medications could help reverse depression. While some medications do work, they also have numerous side effects and most are prohibitively expensive.

Americans spend billions each year buying various antidepressants with no guarantee that they will work and even when the medications work, their effects are short lived. Now, researchers believe that perhaps simple exercise may be another complimentary therapy that can help people who have depression.

There is no question that exercise is good for both mental and physical health. Studies done nearly 40 years ago showed that individuals who exercised were less likely to be depressed and had better self esteem.

Ten years ago, a study from Duke showed that depressed individuals who participated in aerobics improved mentally as much as those who took Sertaline. Since then, many studies have repeatedly shown that aerobic exercise programs have comparable improvement in mood to antidepressants.

Even though there have been some problems in evaluating the different types of exercises, the overall impression is that exercise not only improves mood but also prevents recurrence of depression.

Recent studies indicate that exercise can alter brain chemistry in the same way as antidepressant drugs. Some researchers believe that exercise conditions the brain and is as important as nutrition.

There is now evidence to show that exercise is not only an effective treatment for depression but also against anxiety, substance abuse, and panic attacks. Why exercise has not been prescribed by health care workers for depression is a difficult question to answer.

One of the reasons is that many mental health physicians also work in close collaboration with pharmaceutical industries and are paid huge sums of money to advocate drugs. The other reason is that the benefit of drugs is rather immediate. Exercise requires motivation, dedication, and physical effort –something which many depressed patients do not have.

Despite all the hype about exercise, no one knows for how long one should exercise, what frequency, and what type of exercise.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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