When carrying out wide-ranging analysis on multiple studies to look for commonalities, researchers have looked at exercise and depression in the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder. The research found that despite the obvious diversity in the studies, physical exercise consistently improved response to treatment for major depressive disorder, especially when aerobic training was undertaken .
Likewise, researchers analysed the effectiveness of different complementary and alternative medicine treatments for major depressive disorder, again finding regular exercise to be effective for improving symptoms associated with depression .
Why is exercise so beneficial?
Researchers believe that exercise works to help with depressive symptoms by activating ‘endorphins’ in the body. Endorphins are any group of hormones released in the brain and nervous system that help to reduce pain and increase pleasure as well as immunity. It is also thought that exercise stimulates the release of norepinephrine, a chemical messenger in the brain which can help to improve mood .
As well as physical benefits, exercise can provide emotional benefits. For example, it can help you to improve your confidence, take your mind of things, get out socialising and to cope with life’s challenges in a healthy way, rather than turning to other more destructive habits or patterns such as alcohol .
How much exercise do you need to do to help depression?
For those aged 19-64 years old, the NHS recommends engaging in one of the following options :
- 150 minutes of ‘moderate aerobic activity’ like cycling or fast walking + strength exercises two or more days each week.
- 75 minutes of ‘vigorous aerobic activity’ like running or team sports each week + strength exercises for two or more days per week.
- A mixture of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week, for example 2 x 30 minute jogs and 30 minutes of fast walking + strength exercises for two or more days per week.
Exercise can be gardening, walking, house work or physical jobs like washing the car. Thinking of it like this can also help to fit exercise into your routine. A full breakdown of activities can be found on the NHS website here.
Can exercise replace other treatments for depression?
Those with mild and moderate symptoms consistently experienced improved mood but those with more severe symptoms found exercise to play a worthwhile ‘supporting role’ instead . So can exercise replace other treatments for depression, such as therapy or medication?
The official response is that it really must be taken on a case by case basis, as different combinations of treatment types work differently for everyone. Often a holistic approach is best to ensure the most suitable treatment for every circumstance and personal make-up. A study published for the ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ (1999) found that those who wish to, or need to avoid drugs might be able to substitute exercise as a natural alternative to antidepressants. Furthermore, as a follow-up to the main study, researchers found those who continued to exercise even after the study was completed found the benefits of exercise to last longer than those using antidepressants alone; they were also less likely to relapse into depression. It is worth noting that the quickest response occurred in those taking antidepressants alongside exercise as, for some patients, it can be extremely challenging to stay motivated to get out and exercise without them .
Mental health charity, Mind, are keen to put forward the notion that exercise is often more beneficial to those at the milder end of the symptom spectrum .
Supplements for depression.
There are also natural supplements available which can help to lift mood, such as 5-HTP. 5-HTP has been clinically proven to provide benefits to those with depressive symptoms . It is a naturally occurring chemical made in the body and the pre-cursor to serotonin, our feel good chemical messenger. By taking 5-HTP you can help your brain by supporting it to synthesise more serotonin and therefore give yourself access to more of your natural feel good chemical. To find out more about 5-HTP and its benefits, taking 5-HTP for depression and brain feed’s 5-HTP packages click here.
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NB. Several classes of antidepressants and drugs also target the serotogenic pathway either by binding to the receptors to prevent its re-absorption or causing an increased release of serotonin. As such, 5-HTP should not be taken alongside antidepressants and you should consult your doctor or healthcare professional before replacing any medically prescribed treatment plans with natural remedies.