Exercise & Depression

There is a growing awareness that exercise and depression have a strong relationship quite simply, the more often you work out, the less likely you are to get the blues.

Indeed, many doctors now recognize that exercise is the most effective way to treat depression and anxiety related disorders. Our bodies were designed to move, and when we exercise regularly a range of chemicals are released that help to regulate mood and counter depression.

exercise for depressionIncorporating exercise into treatment of depression more frequently would be a huge boon for GPs it is estimated that up to 30 per cent of consultations to GPs and primary care facilities are related to a mental health problem, while depression is the most common mental disorder in the UK, affecting up to 1 in 4 people.

For many years, the first response to depression has been medication, but many doctors and scientists are now questioning this approach, as antidepressants not only have side effects and withdrawal symptoms, they can also increase the risk of self-harm and suicide in some patients. In addition, anti-depressants are also ineffective in many cases.

By contrast, there is a large body of research evidence that shows a strong relationship between increased exercise and reduced depression. Indeed, studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as medication or psychotherapy for treating depression. Benefits of exercise include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Decreased depression
  • Enhanced mood
  • Improved self-worth and body image
  • Improved cognitive functioning

And this is without even considering the whole range of physical benefits that go with increased activity levels.

One concern held by many doctors is that because their patients are often unfit and lacking in motivation they might not stick to a workout program. Interestingly, treatment completion rates for exercise referral schemes are often much higher than for medication, and indeed many patients enjoy exercise treatment programs more than counselling or medication.

It is not yet clear must why exercise is so effective for treating depression there are several theories:

  • Biological: Exercise leads to an increased release of endorphins and enkephalins, mood enhancing chemicals.
  • Sociological: Going to a gym or health club helps people to get out the house and build new relationships.
  • Skill Mastery: Exercise has clear goals that allow people to feel successful.
  • Distraction: Exercise provides something to do that distracts people from their usual pattern of negative thoughts.

Whatever the reason, this is a powerful tool in a GPs armoury, and an effective way to treat a common and potentially debilitating problem.

By Ian Duncan

PT Courses