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Thursday, 01 September 2011 15:20

EXERCISE – without any side effects can help control Depression and Lead to long –term fitness

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Exercise may curb depression and boost fitness later in life- says study

 Here’s more reason to put on those walking shoes or head to the gym. A pair of new studies suggest that exercise can help control depression and lead to long-term fitness gains later in life

What do we know already?

Physical activity plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. Besides keeping our weight down and our strength up, exercise can also lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions. Being physically active may also boost your mood, triggering the release of chemicals called endorphins.
But despite all we know about the benefits of exercise, there’s much left to be studied, both in terms of how exercise affects our health long term and how it might be used to prevent and treat conditions. Two new studies set out to investigate these issues.

Exercise for depression?

In this study, researchers looked at using exercise as an add-on treatment for depression when an antidepressant isn’t enough.
They recruited 126 men and women who’d had depression for an average of seven years and didn’t exercise regularly. All participants had been taking an antidepressant (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), but still had symptoms.
The researchers randomly split the participants into two exercise groups. In one, people did 12 weeks of moderate aerobic activity (the equivalent of walking about 75 minutes a week, at a speed of 3 miles per hour). In the other, people did more intense exercise (the equivalent of walking about 210 minutes a week, at a speed of 4 miles per hour). Everyone continued taking their antidepressant.

At the end of the study, 3 in 10 people in both exercise groups no longer had symptoms of depression, as judged by their responses to standard questionnaires. Another 2 in 10 had improvements in their symptoms.
Moderate exercise seemed to be more helpful for women with a family history of mental illness, whereas intense exercise was more effective for women without this history. For men, intense exercise was most helpful, regardless of their family background.
The improvements were similar to what might be expected if the participants had started taking a second drug for their depression instead, say the researchers.

However, we need to be cautious about these findings, as the study didn’t directly compare exercise with drug treatment. It also didn’t compare the participants with people not doing exercise. It’s possible that some people might have improved anyhow, whether they exercised or not.

Does exercise add up as we age?

Researchers in this study wondered whether the benefits of being active throughout adulthood might accumulate, leading to better strength and physical ability in middle age. To find out, they gathered data on about 2,400 people from a long-term UK study following participants from their birth in 1946 onwards.

The researchers looked at how much people exercised at ages 36, 43, and 53. They then looked at how well people performed on physical tests at age 53.
After adjusting for factors including people’s weight and health problems, the researchers found that the benefits of exercise seemed to accumulate over time. People who’d been more active at all three ages could stand up from a chair and sit down again more quickly than those who’d been less consistently active. People who’d been more active at ages 43 and 53 could also stand longer on one leg with their eyes closed.

The researchers didn’t find a link between previous exercise and grip strength, except for men who were more active at age 53.

These findings are intriguing. However, this type of study can’t tell us for certain that people performed better on the physical tests because they’d been active previously in their life. Many things can affect a person’s physical abilities in middle age, including their diet, their genes, their health, and their lifestyle. The researchers accounted for some, but not all, of these factors.

What does this mean for me?

If you still have symptoms of depression despite taking an antidepressant, the idea of starting an exercise programme - rather than taking another drug - might appeal to you. After all, drugs often have side effects, and exercise - when done sensibly - usually does not. However, bear in mind that we still don’t know whether exercise is a viable alternative to other treatments. So it’s best to talk to your doctor. Psychoterapy might be another option.

We also need more research to confirm whether years of physical activity accumulate to yield benefits in middle age. However, what’s not in doubt is that exercise is important at every stage of life and its benefits are many and far-reaching. If you don’t currently exercise, starting can be as simple as taking regular brisk walks. Your GP can provide advice on what types of exercise might be best for you.

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Read 41628 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 September 2011 15:50

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