According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in ten U.S. adults struggle with some form of depression, and 11 percent of Americans aged 12 years and older take antidepressant medications.
While medications are certainly helpful (and, I might add, should not be discontinued without consulting your doctor), there’s growing evidence that exercise is an equally important part of depression treatment, especially for those who do not seem to respond to medication.
In fact, a 2011 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that 29.5 percent of patients who exercised 30 minutes a day achieved remission, which they were unable to do on medication alone.
An earlier study, described in Stephen Ilardi’s book, The Depression Cure, had half of its participants take an antidepressant medication while the other half walked for 30 minutes three times a week; both treatments worked equally well for the first few months, but after ten months, those in the exercise group were much less likely to be depressed when compared to those who took antidepressants alone.
Why is exercise so effective in treating depression? The evidence suggests that exercise increases the activity of brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and a key growth hormone, all of which have anti-depressant effects.
I’m not suggesting that you stop taking your antidepressants—you need to consult your doctor about that—however, if you’re on medication and you still find yourself feeling a little blue, the solution might just be a brisk walk around the block or a personal training session.
One of my clients recently told me that she often wants to cancel her personal training sessions because of how depressed she feels in the morning. However, she reports that once she starts warming up on the stationary bike, she inevitably notices a positive shift in her mood. By the time she’s done with her workout, she’s feeling much better and usually goes on to have a depression-free day.
If you’re struggling with depressed mood or even anxiety, I strongly recommend that you start exercising in addition to whatever treatment your doctor has recommended. After all, exercise is super cheap and it doesn’t come with side effects.
And if you need help staying on track or need help figuring out a routine, personal training is the way to go. I’m here to support you as you work towards improved mental and physical health.