- In a study comparing running therapy to antidepressants, researchers found that 16 weeks of a running program can offer similar benefits to these medications.
- Running the intervention involved expert guidance from trained therapists, as it may be more difficult to maintain consistency.
- Experts explain that many factors enter into the treatment of depression – and medication is a crucial part of it – but lifestyle factors can also play a key role.
For a better management of depression, research has often suggested exercise as a way to ease symptoms and optimize the therapeutic approach – for example, one study notes that exercise can improve the way you respond to the antidepressants. But a recent study, published in the Journal of Affective Disordersstacks exercise as it runs directly against the medications to see which is more effective.
It turns out, they have similar benefits, but running led to other improvements in physical health while antidepressants had the opposite effect.
Researchers recruited 141 patients with diagnosed depression and/or anxiety and offered them the choice of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), an antidepressant medication, or group-based exercise therapy for 16 weeks – 45 chose medication while 96 chose running.
The running group exercised in a therapeutic environment at least twice a week, led by mental health practitioners who were trained as running therapists. While these experts didn’t offer direct talk therapy, they did offer guidance on things like connecting with the body and physical boundaries. At the beginning of the program, experts also discussed past experience with exercise and shared information on things like food, fatigue, injuries, sleep and recovery.
The running sessions lasted 45 minutes, including a 10-minute warm-up, 30 minutes of jogging and a five-minute cooldown. Each participant wore a heart rate monitor and the goal was to run at an intensity of 50 to 70 percent heart rate reserve for the first four weeks, and 70 to 85 percent in the last 12 weeks.
At the end of the trial, about 44 percent in both groups showed an improvement in depression and anxiety, but only those in the running group had additional benefits in terms of better blood pressure, heart function and waist circumference. Those in the antidepressant group showed a slight deterioration in these metabolic markers.
“The most important thing is that we have shown that running therapy and antidepressant medications are equally effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders when looking at mental health outcomes, including remission and response rates” , said lead researcher Josine Verhoeven, Ph.D. the department of psychiatry of the Vrije University in Amsterdam.
Verhoeven said that the exercise itself probably led to the favorable results for those in the running group, but also factors such as being outside, exposed to daylight, and setting and achieving goals probably also played a role. helped to enhance the mental benefits.
“When you see the somatic health results [those relating to the body]running therapy outperformed antidepressant medication, as it had several beneficial effects on somatic health, while the side effects of antidepressant medication actually decreased somatic health variables,” added Verhoeven.
That’s because antidepressants have known side effects that include weight gain, increased blood pressure and decreased heart rate variability, he said. The world of runners.
Despite the results of this recent study, this shouldn’t make people who need antidepressants shy away from the medications, which can be very helpful in treating certain forms of depression, said Lindsey Law, MD, a psychiatrist at Prairie Health. , based in Colorado. She said The world of runners that many factors enter into the diagnosis and treatment of depression, including the role of life behaviors and the use of medication.
Also, if you are currently on antidepressants and want to try to get off that medication with a strategy like exercise, definitely check with your health care provider because you need to reduce these medications gradually rather than stopping suddenly, according to the Law.
In general, doing more exercise such as running can be an effective complement to depression therapy, but it is important to adapt your approach based on your individual situation, and to be guided by health professionals along the way .
“An interesting aspect of our research was that most patients chose to run as an intervention, but many found it difficult to complete the 16 weeks,” said Verhoeven. “I think this shows how difficult it is to change behavior and this is true for everyone, but especially when they are depressed. That’s why we now offer running therapy for patients with depression, so they have a personal guide when trying this intervention “.
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness and nutrition.
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