- In a study comparing running therapy to antidepressants, researchers found that 16 weeks of a running program can provide similar benefits to these drugs.
- The running intervention included expert guidance from trained therapists, as adherence may be more difficult.
- Experts explain that several factors go into treating depression, and medication is an important part of it, but lifestyle factors can also play an important role.
In order to better manage depression, research has often suggested exercise as a way to alleviate symptoms and optimize therapeutic approaches, for example, one study suggests that exercise may improve response to antidepressants. But a recent study that was published Journal of Affective Disordersheaps exercise like running directly against medication to see which is more effective.
It turns out that they have similar benefits, but running led to other improvements in physical health, while antidepressants had the opposite effect.
Researchers recruited 141 patients diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety and offered them a choice of either selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), an antidepressant medication, or group running therapy for 16 weeks;
The running group exercised in a therapeutic setting at least twice a week, guided by mental health practitioners trained as running therapists. While these experts didn’t offer direct talk therapy, they did offer guidance on things like body bonding and physical boundaries. At the start of the program, the experts also discussed past training experiences and shared information about things like nutrition, fatigue, injuries, sleep and recovery.
Running sessions lasted 45 minutes, including a 10-minute warm-up, 30 minutes of running, and a five-minute cool-down. Each participant wore a heart rate monitor, and the goal was to run at an intensity of 50 to 70 percent of heart rate reserve for the first four weeks and 70 to 85 percent for the last 12 weeks.
At the end of the trial, about 44 percent of both groups showed improvements in depression and anxiety, but only the running group had additional benefits in terms of better blood pressure, heart rate and waist circumference. Those in the antidepressant group showed a slight worsening of these metabolic markers.
“Most importantly, we showed that conduct therapy and antidepressant medication are equally effective in treating depression and anxiety disorders when looking at mental health outcomes, including remission and response rates,” said lead researcher Josine Verhoeven, MD. .c.t. Department of Psychiatry, Vrije University Amsterdam.
Verhoeven said the exercise itself probably led to the favorable results for those in the running group, but factors such as being outdoors, exposure to daylight, and setting and achieving goals also likely helped boost the mental benefits.
“When looking at somatic health outcomes [those relating to the body]”Administrative therapy was superior to antidepressant medication because it had several beneficial effects on somatic health, while the side effects of antidepressant medication actually reduced somatic health variables,” Verhoeven added.
That’s because antidepressants have known side effects that include weight gain, increased blood pressure and decreased heart rate variability, he said. Runner’s World:.
Despite the findings of this latest study, that shouldn’t make people who need antidepressants shy away from the medication, which can be very helpful in treating some forms of depression, says Lindsay Lowe, a psychiatrist at Prairie Health in Colorado. He told Runner’s World: that many factors play a role in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, including the role of lifestyle behaviors and medication use.
Also, if you’re currently on antidepressants and want to try tapering off that medication with a strategy like exercise, be sure to check with your healthcare provider, as you must taper off those medications gradually, not stop them suddenly, according to the law.
In general, getting more exercise, such as running, can be an effective adjunct to depression therapy, but it’s important to tailor your approach based on your individual situation and get guidance from health professionals along the way.
“One interesting aspect of our study was that most patients chose running as an intervention, but many had difficulty completing the 16 weeks,” said Verhoeven. “I think this shows how difficult it is to change behavior, and that’s true for anyone, but especially when depressed. That’s why we now offer conduct therapy for patients with depression so they can have personal guidance when trying this intervention.”
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness and nutrition.
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