Exercise Helps Depression As Well As Meds, Says New Study

If you’re blue, but not into treatments that require a prescription, hit the gym. In a recent study of 202 depressed adults, researchers found that those who participated in “group-based exercise therapy” showed the same results as those treated with antidepressants, while those who exercised at home showed slightly less improvement, and those who were given a placebo pill remained depressed.

The difference between this study and past ones is the presence of the placebo group, which addresses criticism that the very act of therapy was positively affecting depression studies. After 16 weeks of treatment, 47 percent of those given antidepressant and 45 percent of those who exercised in a group setting were no longer diagnosed as depressed. (We’re not sure if “group-based” and “group setting” mean taking a class, or running on a treadmill surrounded by other exercisers.)

For home exercisers, the number was 40 percent; for the placebo group, 31 percent.

[Update: as some of our readers have pointed out, don’t look to The Consumerist for medical advice! If you’re suffering from depression, seek professional medical assistance. kthx]

“Exercise on par with drugs for aiding depression” [Reuters]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome job on the photo choice, as always.

  2. hudsong says:

    That’s because “working out” used to be a thing humans had to do to survive. Doesn’t it just make sense that it would cause proper chemical balance in our brains? Good test though, looks credible.

  3. swalve says:

    “If you’re blue, but not into treatments that require a prescription, hit the gym.”

    It is disrespectful to refer to Depression as “feeling blue” and it is dangerous to dispense medical advice.

  4. magic8ball says:

    But isn’t part of the problem that when you’re depressed, you don’t want to do things like exercise?

  5. Bourque77 says:

    @Swalve

    Couldnt agree more unless you’ve been through it you cant really understand all that depression is. If you had been through it you wouldnt call it feeling blue. While offering helpful advice is always good do be careful when discussing medical advice. Its always best to say and or repeat “talk to your medical professional” for safeties sake.

  6. @swalve: I read “blue” to mean “not clinically depressed” (as in, this might help you when you’re feeling sad since it seems to help out people who are actually depressed) but I get your point.

    @magic8ball: That’s why I think the “group-based exercise therapy” must have been in conjunction with the regular group therapy as opposed to just going to a gym. Seriously, I think going to the gym alone could have the opposite if you’re depressed.

  7. I was actually trying to avoid writing a sentence along the lines of , “If you’re diagnosed as depressed, here is what you should do,” for the obvious reason that it would be irresponsible to offer medical advice on The Consumerist. So, yeah, what Rectilinear Propagation said. I know real depression from blue, certainly, so I hope no one feels personally insulted.

    Having said that, I see your point, and urge anyone reading this to seek medical attention for depression!

  8. @silvanx: I felt like I’d won the lottery when I found that photo on Getty earlier today. :)

  9. infinitysnake says:

    @Chris Walters: All of us? ;-)

  10. infinitysnake says:

    @Chris Walters: BTW, if that is Gwetty, you’re missing their required photog attribution. (fyi) I’ll go back to mmob now…

  11. Shred says:

    Magic8Ball,

    Everything pretty much everything you don’t want to do while depressed is precisely what would make you feel better. Going out and being around people, talking to people about how you feel, eating healthy, exercising, being on a regular sleep schedule with no daytime naps. All sounds like shit when you’re depressed, and it all, ultimately makes you feel better.

  12. vanilla-fro says:

    do these people that perform these studies get lots of money? if so from where?
    I thought they taught us this in middle/high school and certainly in college I think I heard it, that may have been a dream though.
    Excercise is known to fix a bunch of stuff. Esecially that stuff that occurs now but not as much back when we didn’t need excercise (ie: when people were just naturally more active.)

  13. no.no.notorious says:

    duh

  14. Mary says:

    @magic8ball: “But isn’t part of the problem that when you’re depressed, you don’t want to do things like exercise?”

    Yes. I have had the hardest time, in my six year struggle with clinical depression, convincing doctors that the whole POINT is that I don’t want to get out of bed to eat, let alone get up and do something I consider boring. I have trouble getting the energy to just make it through my desk job, so running a couple miles just isn’t on the agenda.

    I also notice that the biggest impact was GROUP exercise. You can’t underestimate the impact of social interaction. Friends and their support have had the biggest impact on me, and helped me more than I can say.

    But while it might be great that exercise works so well, I dread the idea that people are going to start just looking at sufferers of depression and going “Oh, just go to the gym you lazy bum!”

    It’s not even remotely that simple.

  15. Razzler says:

    Sure, this is common knowledge. I’ve suffered from depression, but since starting a daily exercise regimen two months ago, I’ve never felt better.

    Still. The first thought that came to mind after reading that headline was “Wow, the Scientologists have it half-right.”

  16. Mary says:

    @Shred: “All sounds like shit when you’re depressed, and it all, ultimately makes you feel better.”

    Clinical depression isn’t quite so simple. Moderation and slight depression, the type most people have, is based around a particular moment in your life, an event, and it usually just takes temporary measures to break out of and “cure.”

    People who suffer from depression for years, often there is no cause. There’s no rhyme or reason, and you know it. You know that you have no reason to feel the way you do, you know that you have fun when you go out with your friends, but you can’t bring yourself to do it. And if you don’t have friends that are sympathetic to the problem, it can cause even more problems. When I was first diagnosed, I only got worse because I was in a situation where the type of dynamic I had with my friends was detrimental to my condition. I won’t go into specifics, but I’ll just say I didn’t start to get better until AFTER I finally shut down and wasn’t letting anyone in. At that point I found the right kind of people, who were willing to help me, and understand.

    Sure, it’s partially about will power. But even implying that you just have to “snap out of it” bothers me because it’s not that easy. It’s not a switch you can flip, it’s not something you can turn on or off, it’s not something you can wake up one morning and change. It can be a lifelong challenge, and it effects everything that you do.

    All of that said, I will point out that I don’t think medication is often the answer. I haven’t been on anti-depressants in years, because I decided that I preferred to treat my problems a different way. I know that a lot of what I’ve said sounds like I think people need to just pop a prozac, but I don’t think it’s that simple either.

    Treating a mental illness involves life changes, and it’ll never be as easy as a pill, a gym membership, or a night out with the girls.

  17. mk says:

    What would be good to know, and what I think this study leans towards, is that regular exercise helps wards of depression. As someone who has been on antidepressants, one of the reasons I allowed myself to try and stop was because I was going to the gym four to five times a week. It’s not 100 percent certain my depression won’t come back, but it will help.

  18. @meiran: “But while it might be great that exercise works so well, I dread the idea that people are going to start just looking at sufferers of depression and going “Oh, just go to the gym you lazy bum!””

    Yes, and it’s crucially important to recognize that while there are many different ways to attack depression — talk therapy, drugs, exercise, other life situation changes, even getting a cat — different people respond differently to different treatments, and the patient and doctor have to work together to find the right combination to treat THAT PERSON’S depression.

    I get so aggravated when people are all, “Zoloft fixes everyone!” or “Zoloft didn’t work for me, so it’s bunk! Everyone should stop eating bananas like I did! That fixes everyone!”

    @Shred: “Everything pretty much everything you don’t want to do while depressed is precisely what would make you feel better.”

    As noted by Meiran, chronic clinical depression (rather than an event-based depression) isn’t so easily treated. For many people (not all) with serious, deep levels of depression, the things you suggest as making it better either have no impact or actively make it worse.

    @meiran: “I will point out that I don’t think medication is often the answer. I haven’t been on anti-depressants in years, because I decided that I preferred to treat my problems a different way.”

    I, on the other hand, with 13 years in the depression trenches, am simply not fucntional without medication, no matter what other combination of therapies is tried. People’s body chemistries do change (I’ve had to switch meds for that very reason) and it’s possible that a major hormonal change like childbirth or menopause might make it possible for me to manage the depression without meds, but I’m fairly resigned to it being a lifetime commitment. (Also since studies now suggest that going on and off and on and off the drugs can make depression “resistant” to treatment, I’m not so eager to make weaning attempts as I used to be.)