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Exercise and Mental Health

Exercise Psychology | 19th June 2012 | 0 comments

A new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that combining exercise with conventional treatments for depression does not in fact aid recovery.

The NHS-funded research looked at 361 patients suffering from depression – and splitting the group, gave one group help to boost their activity levels as well as continuing their treatment of therapy or anti-depressants, while the other group just continued with conventional medication. Although after one year all the patients showed fewer signs of depression, there was no difference between the two groups – showing that the group who had extra exercise were no better off. Recently however researchers in Scotland suggested that walking was a good way to help combat depression, helping to create “feel good” hormones.

Currently the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines suggest that people suffering from depression take three exercise sessions a week. This advice was based on research at the time in 2004 that said increased physical activity could help people with mild depression. And the mental health charity Mind hopes that the latest research, claiming exercise doesn’t necessarily aid recovery, won’t lead to exercise being overlooked as a benefit to those suffering from depression. Mind’s own research says that for many depression sufferers, just being outside has a beneficial effect on their mental health and wellbeing.

While exercise does seem to have a beneficial effect on mild or moderate anxiety or depression, there are questions over its potential to helping those suffering from severe bouts of depression – where getting out of bed can be a struggle, let alone being given an exercise regime to try and follow. This can sometimes be counterproductive, putting an extra strain on the sufferer.

One in 10 people may have depression at some point in their lives and though the condition can be treated with drugs, exercise is often prescribed by doctors for mild symptoms as it can have positive results.

Although the benefits of exercise in combating depression are still unclear, it is widely agreed that exercise itself, especially walking, must have positive results for many. With the advantages of being easy to undertake, costing relatively little and easy to incorporate in daily life, it would be unwise to overlook the overall health benefits, and potential mental health benefits that some forms of exercise can provide.

To really tap into the benefits and effects of exercise on depression and mental health, it is important that more research is undertaken as there are still a lot of unknowns.

How any form of exercise helps with depression is unclear. It is possible that exercise just provides more of a distraction from other worries and gives a release from daily pressures and strains, also giving a sense of control and release those feel good hormones. Exercising with others can forge good relationships and social networks – people can talk through their problems or just enjoy a break from work and home life. Friends can be made through having an exercise partner, and there is a lot to be said for group exercises which give a sense of worth to the individual and encourage participation.

But while not all sufferers from depression will see an improvement in their condition through exercise alone – the many other benefits on their health and fitness are not to be overlooked.

Trying a wide range of outdoor exercises can help sufferers of depression to find something they really enjoy and give a new focus. It might be walking, running, cycling, gardening, or tennis, and whether research proves that these activities combat depression, or not, it is certain that they won’t be detrimental to overall health and wellbeing.

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