Exercise and psychotherapy are often better than antidepressants for treating moderate depression, a depression expert argues.
Exercise helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which lowers depression and heart disease risk.
While exercise can be difficult to maintain when feeling hopeless, there are ways to combat this.
Professor Madhukar Trivedi, a psychiatrist and co-author of a study on depression and exercise, said:
“Maintaining a healthy dose of exercise is difficult, but it can be done.
It just requires more effort and addressing unique barriers to regular exercise.”
Professor Trivedi has some recommendations for depressed patients:
- Exercise at the same time each day, but don’t worry if you have to skip a day or two.
- Log your progress somewhere.
- Change exercises to keep them interesting.
- Take a friend along.
- Get someone to hold you accountable for doing the exercise.
Avoiding antidepressants has its benefits, said Dr Trivedi:
“There is value to not starting a medication if it’s not needed.
Being active and getting psychotherapy are sometimes the best prescription, especially in younger patients who don’t have severe depression.”
Exercise may also be best for people with chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and kidney disease.
Fitness is midlife reduces depression risk
The study included almost 18,000 people who were tracked from middle age onwards.
The results showed that people who maintain good fitness levels in midlife are at a much lower risk of depression.
Those with higher levels of fitness were also much less likely to die from heart disease.
The results are also relevant to younger people, said Professor Trivedi:
“This is the age where we typically see physical activity drop off because they’re not involved in school activities and sports.
The earlier you maintain fitness, the better chance of preventing depression, which in the long run will help lower the risk of heart disease.”
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 JAMA Psychiatry (Willis et al., 2018).