A brisk walk three times a week can actually beat antidepressant medication in treating major depression, research finds.
The results come from a study on three groups of elderly people with major depressive disorder.
One group were given the exercise, another given antidepressant medication and the third both.
The results showed that all three groups improved the same amount.
Professor James Blumenthal, the study’s first author, said:
“One of the conclusions we can draw from this is that exercise may be just as effective as medication and may be a better alternative for certain patients.”
The results showed that after exercise almost two-thirds of participants were no longer depressed after 16 weeks.
One of the problems with exercise is that it may take a little longer to take effect.
Professor Blumenthal said:
“While we don’t know why exercise confers such a benefit, this study shows that exercise should be considered as a credible form of treatment for these patients.
Almost one-third of depressed patients in general do not respond to medications, and for others, the medications can cause unwanted side effects.
Exercise should be considered a viable option.”
Exercise could be particularly beneficial because people are taking an active role, rather than passively taking a pill, Professor Blumenthal said:
“Simply taking a pill is very passive.
Patients who exercised may have felt a greater sense of mastery over their condition and gained a greater sense of accomplishment.
They felt more self-confident and had better self-esteem because they were able to do it themselves, and attributed their improvement to their ability to exercise.
These findings could change the way some depressed patients are treated, especially those who are not interested in taking anti-depressants.
While these medications have been proven to be effective, many people want to avoid the side effects or are looking for a more ‘natural’ way of feeling better.”
The antidepressant tested in the study was sertraline, which is marketed as Zoloft.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine (Blumenthal et al., 1999).