DEPRESSION IS a very common disorder that causes much suffering for large numbers of people and their loved ones. About 20 million Americans are thought to suffer from depressive disorders. Researchers claim that only a quarter of individuals with clinical depression seek treatment, and that only 10 per cent of them receive adequate care.
I have written before about a holistic approach to the treatment of depression, but unfortunately, for most people the only treatment offered is antidepressant drugs. Medical researchers may have discovered a new 'drug' for depression that most anyone can take advantage of and use.
EXERCISE - A NATURAL DRUG
In a study which involved 80 adults aged 20 to 45 years who were diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, researchers looked at exercise alone to treat the condition and found:
Depressive symptoms were cut almost in half in those individuals who participated in 30-minute aerobic exercise sessions, three to five times a week after 12 weeks.
Those who exercised with low-intensity for three and five days a week showed a 30 per cent reduction in symptoms.
Participants who did stretching and flexibility exercises for even 15-20 minutes three days a week averaged a 29 per cent decline.
The results of this study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, January 2005, are similar to that of other studies, which involved patients with mild or moderate depression - proving patients need not rely on drugs alone to treat depression.
HOW EXERCISE WORKS
In many ways the brain has its own pharmacy, producing its own natural drugs in the right dosage at the right time. Exercise induces the brain to produce more of its own relaxing and antidepressant substances called endorphins.
Other benefits include increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, changes in breathing patterns, decreased muscle tension plus a host of other physical benefits.
Some of the emotional health benefits of exercise include:
Having a better outlook on life
When using exercise as a drug, it is important to set a goal of 60 to 90 minutes per day, every day. Obviously, depending on your current condition, you may need to work slowly up to this level. My experience is that weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, running or machines like Total Gym and Health Rider, are great. If you have any physical concerns, consult your health care provider.
However, the big obstacle faced by people who have not exercised in some time is how to get started. Just the thought of starting an exercise programme can be intimidating.
Health guru, Dr. Joseph Mercola, recommends walking as a wonderful way to get started. It is very low-impact so it is easy on the joints.
He points out that most people find it is simple and enjoyable to fit a walk into their day. It is also one of the most cost-effective ways to get exercise, as it does not require much training and the only equipment needed is a good pair of walking shoes. You can walk just about anywhere and you can do it anytime.
WALKING AS WORKOUT
This depends on your initial fitness level. If you are starting out in poor shape, slow-paced walking will produce benefits, but if you are starting out in better condition, you will need to walk faster and/or farther to see any results.
Regardless of your starting level, the more vigorous your walking pace, the more dramatic the conditioning effects will be. When walking for exercise, you should walk at a steady pace that is fast enough to cause your heart rate to rise.
In my experience, most people increase their fitness level relatively rapidly while walking, and the only way they can continue to stress themselves enough while walking is to walk uphill or on a treadmill with an incline.
The practical problem with using exercise for depression, however, is that the desire to pursue any activity, let alone exercise, is not very high. The converse should also be remembered: Just because one exercises regularly does not mean you cannot become depressed. Exercise makes it easier to treat depression, but it certainly does not cure it in everyone.
As explained in my book, your nutrition is an extremely important aspect of treating depression. I recommend the Cellular Nutrition Programme, along with specific supplements like omega-3 fats in high dosages, the B complex vitamins, St. John's wort.