Researchers studying exercise as a treatment for depression examined three groups of subjects:a group treated with exercise, a group treated with exercise and Zoloft (an SSRI medication), and a group treated with Zoloft alone. They reported that after four months of treatment, depression significantly improved in all three groups.
However, relapse of depression occurred in 38 percent of those treated with Zoloft and 31 percent of those treated with Zoloft and exercise. Yet those in the exercise-only group had just 8 percent recurrence of depression — and that without the use of an expensive drug with numerous side effects.
Exercise has been shown to outperform psychotropic drug therapy in numerous studies. Furthermore, it has demonstrated this positive effect without any risk of adverse effects. Exercise should be the first recommendation given to a patient suffering from depression.
How does exercise combat depression? Exercise has been shown not only to raise serotonin levels, but also help the body release amino acids called endorphins, which are produced in the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus portion of the brain when the body is excited. (Endorphins are also produced as a reaction to pain, consumption of spicy foods, and during and after sexual intercourse.)
Endorphins are thought to be responsible for the “runner’s high” many people experience with prolonged exercise. They also function as neurotransmitters, and have been shown to have antidepressive activities. Daily exercise has been shown to elevate the body’s production of endorphins.
So how much exercise do you need? As little as 20 minutes a day, three times per week of mild, moderate, or hard exercise has been shown to help depression. Walking and running, aerobic and non-aerobic exercise all have been shown to have antidepressive benefits. And those benefits are long lasting; that means the longer you do it, the more benefit you’ll get.
Along with exercise, there is no question in my mind that the best prescription for preventing and treating depression is to eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole, unrefined grains. In addition, drink adequate amounts of water, avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, and ingest sufficient amounts of unrefined salt.
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