Depression affects millions of people, and the disorder can be a lifelong condition. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 10 people may develop depression at some point in their lives.
There are effective drugs for treatment of depression but unfortunately, the medications do have unwanted side effects. Moreover, over time, many medications appear to lose their effectiveness. Many patients with depression are continuously searching for that illusive treatment that can cure, or work for long periods.
What is also of importance is that many treatments for depression are expensive. This applies to medications and psychotherapy. The financial burden of depression is enormous.
While drugs and psychotherapy are commonly prescribed by doctors for treatment of depression, exercise is rarely recommended. Many health care professionals seem to believe that exercise is only effective for organic disorders like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
In the past, some studies showed that vigorous exercise could help relieve symptoms of depression, but the effects of less strenuous exercise were not evaluated. For some unknown reason many people including health professionals seem to think that only vigorous exercise is beneficial for health.
Now several reports indicate that simple walking may help many people fight the symptoms of depression. According to the researchers, one does not have to run a marathon, but a brisk stroll is just as effective. (1)
In this study, it was observed that the mildest form of exercise, walking, was an effective intervention for depression. Moreover, the beneficial effects were similar to other more intense forms of exercise.
The great thing about exercise is that it can be done by everyone and incurs no financial cost. It is relatively easy to incorporate exercise into a daily living program.
At the moment, it is not known how long the walking should be performed on a daily basis, how fast, or whether there is a difference when walking indoors or outdoors.
How exercise helps alleviate symptoms of depression is not fully known, but it is known that exercise can help people distract themselves from worry and offer a sense of control. Moreover, walking also boosts self-esteem and increases self confidence. (2)
Researchers suggest that people should first determine what type of outdoor activity they like and adopt a regular exercise program. While walking is the easiest, others recommend activities include gardening, cycling or even swimming.
To further enhance the benefits of exercise, people are encouraged to exercise with others as this tends to strengthen social networks and provides an opportunity to talk or discuss other issues.
Finally, exercise is a great way to lose weight and improve general well-being. This alone should be a reason to exercise.
Prescribing exercise to treat depression. New York Times. Web. April 15, 2012. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/prescribing-exercise-to-treat-depression
Berman MG. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. J Affect Disord. 2012 Mar 30. [Epub ahead of print] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22464936
Reviewed April 16, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jessica Obert