NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 16, 2005

A growing body of medical literature, including at least three 2005 studies, shows aerobic routines, including weight lifting, effectively combat depression, says the Wall Street Journal. The website of the American Psychological Association features an entire page describing exercise as a legitimate third leg of treatment, along with psychotherapy and medication.

Researchers found that treating depression through exercise benefits the patient in a number of ways:

  • It is beneficial both immediately and long term; exercise is most effective for those most physically and/or psychologically unhealthy at the start of the exercise program.
  • It is equally effective for both genders; the longer the exercise program and the larger the number of sessions, the greater the decrease in depression.

In a recent study in the Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers suggested a half-hour a day of exercise, six days a week -- the same amount recommended by the government for all Americans -- as potentially ideal. Comparing two groups of depressed patients, researchers found:

  • The group who performed only 80-minutes-a-week received little to no mental-health benefit while the three-hour-a-week group had a substantial reduction in symptoms.
  • Around-the-clock relief sets in several weeks after the establishment of a regular exercise routine.

However, obvious problems with this treatment exist, says the Journal.

  • Mental-health experts usually are not fitness trainers and have no way of monitoring patient compliance.
  • Moreover, prescribing thirty minutes on the treadmill to a patient who can barely climb out of bed does not make much sense.
  • Exercising three hours a week is challenging enough for those who are not suffering from depression, says Harvard's Dr. Jacobs.

Source: Kevin Helliker, "Yet Another Reason to Go to the Gym: How Exercise Can Help Fight Depression," Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2005; and Andrea L. Dunn et al., "Exercise treatment for depression: Efficacy and dose response," American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 28, Issue 1 , January 2005.

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