Psychology of Exercise and Fitness

Current Research on the Link between Exercise and Depression

Sure, you want to look good in those tight designer jeans, but the advantages of exercising don’t stop at the waistline. There are obvious cardiovascular benefits to regular exercise that can help reduce the threat of heart disease. Plus, there is evidence suggesting it might aid in the prevention and treatment of nervous system disorders, and recent psychological research has shown that exercise can help reduce symptoms of patients with major depressive disorder.

Jim Blumenthal of Duke University noticed anecdotally that people felt better when they exercised and decided to look at whether exercise could reduce depressive symptoms in patients. He started out looking at non-depressed patients and found that regular exercise had a positive effect on depressive symptoms in these patients. “But the question was ‘Really, what does that really mean?’” Blumenthal says. “If someone’s not depressed to begin with and they have reduced symptoms, so what?”

So Blumenthal began to focus his research on patients with major depressive disorder. He assigned patients to one of three treatment groups: medication, exercise, or a combination of both. At the end of four months, the patients assigned to just exercise showed as much improvement as the other two groups. Just over 60 percent of the exercising patients no longer classified as clinically depressed at the end of the study, compared with 69 percent of the patients who were given only medication and 65.5 percent of those assigned to both.

What’s more, in follow-up studies, Blumenthal found that patients who exercised had half the risk of being depressed six months after the experiment as those who didn’t.

Blumenthal says he is not ready to recommend that people with major depression forgo their medicine in favor of exercise, but “I still remain very optimistic about exercise being an alternative to treatment for depression,” he says.

This article appears in the January 2008 issue of the Observer, the monthly magazine of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Abdul Rehman M.S. Khatri


Events Manager

IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute


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