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Articles Exercise

By John McManamy
(September 27th 2000, Vol 2, No. 35)

Here's the good news: There is a treatment for depression that is as effective as any antidepressant on the market, if not more so, plus it's a guaranteed weight-reducer.

Now here's the catch: The treatment is called exercise, thirty minutes of it three times a week.

A Duke University study divided 150 participants with depression age 50 or more into three groups. One was put on an exercise regimen, another administered Zoloft, and a third given a combination of the two. Those in the exercise group worked out on a treadmill or stationary bicycle at 70 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate for 30 minutes, three times a week. At the end of four months, all three groups showed significantly lower rates of depression.

The big surprise came from a follow-up conducted six months later when it was discovered that those in the exercise group experienced significantly less relapse than those in the Zoloft or combination groups. Only eight percent of the exercise group had their depression return compared to 38 percent of the Zoloft group and 31 percent of the combination group.

As to why the combination group should fare worse than the exercise alone group, lead researcher James Blumenthal PhD speculated that: "The concurrent use of medication may undermine the psychological benefits of exercise ..."

He goes on to say: "The important conclusion is that the effectiveness of exercise seems to persist over time, and that patients who respond well to exercise and maintain their exercise have a much smaller risk of relapsing."

Moreover: "For each 50-minute increment of exercise, there was an accompanying 50 percent reduction in relapse risk."

Of course, the last thing any of us want to do when caught up in a killer depression is crawl out of the covers and try to win three gold medals. Even when depression grants us a temporary reprieve, the prospect of taking one's body for a quick spin around the block seems daunting.

Don't I know it, as I lace up my concrete running shoes and go out for my ten-minute jog that is uphill and against the wind both ways. My ultimate goal is 20 minutes, but both polar ice-caps are likely to melt before I can inch up to 15. I have better luck standing on my head, which is part of my yoga and meditation routine. I am trying to focus on my breathing when I mediate, but inevitably my racing brain comes up with its own mantra of why I am really doing this:

I am fighting my depression, I am fighting my depression ...

Which is exactly what I gasp and grunt and groan as my concrete running shoes painfully pound the pavement in tortuous but perfect rhythm five days out of seven.

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