Can Running Help Treat Depression?
Research shows that running and exercise may be as effective as prescriptions in treating depression.
Running makes me feel good. Running has changed my life for the better and is one of the things that makes me love life. As I thought about this, I took the time to research some studies which were performed to evaluate the effects of running and exercise on mood and depression. I found some pretty incredible things. The Mayo Clinic (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009) lists several reasons why exercise is considered effective in helping prevent and treat depression and anxiety:
- Releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters and endorphins)
- Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
- Increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects
- Gaining confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.
- Taking your mind off of worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.
- Getting more social interaction. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.
- Coping in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away on their own can lead to worsening symptoms.
Whether it is a combination of this list of reasons or a more complex scientific explanation, the results are hard to ignore.
A 2001 study of 32 depressed subjects involved in a 20 week randomized controlled trial (Singh, Clements, Singh 2001) showed incredible results when treating depression with an exercise program. In this study “clinical depression had resolved in 73% of exercisers after 20 weeks of treatment, as compared with 36% of controls, an efficacy rate comparable to the best trials of antidepressants with psychological counseling.” Another significant fact in this study was the fact that the effects of exercise seem to endure over time. The study concluded that “exercise was associated with a significant reduction in depression at both 20 weeks and after 26 months, despite the removal of supervision, transport costs, and group setting at 10 weeks” (Singh, Clements, Singh 2001).
Similar results were found in a 2000 study (Babyak, et al. 2000). In this clinical trial, depressed adults were randomly assigned to a 4-month course in one of three different groups 1.) aerobic exercise only, 2.) sertraline (medication Zoloft) therapy only, or 3.) a combination of exercise and sertraline therapy. After four months, patients in all three groups exhibited significant improvement. The proportion of remitted participants was comparable across the three treatment conditions and there were no differences between the groups. People in the exercise-only group did as well as people in the two medication groups. In addition, people in the exercise-only group were significantly less likely to relapse. Six months after completion of treatment, 28% of the exercise-only group became depressed again vs. 51% of the medications-only and medications-exercise groups. The authors concluded that exercise is an effective intervention, even in patients with major depression. Moreover, exercise helps prevent relapse. During the follow up each self-reported 50-minute increment in exercise per week was associated with a 50% decrease in the odds of being classified as depressed (Babyak, et al. 2000).
I don’t want to drag on with more and more studies that I found but the evidence seems to present a very strong case that adding exercise to one’s daily routine may have very far reaching benefits emotionally and mentally as well as physically and may be one of the safest, most effective, least expensive and enduring treatments for those suffering from the effects of depression. A simple running program is a great way to start. I know this may not work in all cases and I in no way want to diminish the seriousness of depression but rather try to offer another avenue that may help those people who are suffering from it.
So, If you are feeling a little down or even a lot down, get up and start moving today. Start getting in shape and improving not only your physical self but your emotional self as well. Also, if you have a friend or loved one who is struggling, take the time to help them get moving as well. If you want to feel better tomorrow then start running today and continue “Running Through Life.”