Precise recommendations as to how much exercise and which types of exercise are most effective have yet to be determined, but several preliminary studies suggest that exercise is superior to medications when it comes to fighting depression. Recently, TIME Magazine profiled psychologist Jasper Smits. Smits, along with fellow researcher Michael Otto from Boston University, recently published a book specifically for therapists entitled Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders (Oxford, 2009). They find exercise to have almost equal benefit, and less risk, compared to prescription drugs, as far as depression in adults is concerned.
The research suggests that exercise releases chemicals into both the body and the brain that help battle depression in two ways. First, there’s the immediate rush of hormones that induce a positive mood. These trigger periods of genuine happiness and lighter moods immediately after a period of even moderate exercise. Then, there is the fact that these chemicals behave, in the brain, much like anti-depression medications do. The way they communicate with neurotransmitters, and the way they encourage the brain to communicate with itself, have found to be quite similar.
Yet exercise comes without many of the risks and side effects that are associated with prescription drugs. Quite the opposite, it has a positive benefit on the body, and it’s also free. Exercise is expected to be especially useful when paired with therapy and counseling. The reason no specific guidelines as to sufficient amount have been established is that the researched has simply not gotten much attention. Studies on prescription drugs are funded largely by the companies that produce them, and since exercise is free and most people are in a condition to pursue it on their own, studies are far less prevalent. But even without studies to prove its efficacy against depression, exercise is good for the body anyway, so long as one is healthy enough to do it.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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