As one whose family has suffered from the devastating effects of depression, I was excited to read in Dr. Mercola's newsletter today how exercise can fight it. His article is titled: When Drugs and Therapy Don't Cure Depression, Running Will.
First, he links this article by Daniele Seiss in The Washington Post. It is a fascinating story. She says that she started having severe depression when she was only six years old, with symptoms that included crying all the time, feelings of dread, inability to eat, and sleeplessness.
After suffering for years this way, one day she accidentally discovered that going on a long walk made her happy. Curious as to how far she had gone, her mother took her in the car to measure it. It was 27 miles! In high school she discovered the benefits of running, but she was far into adulthood before she understood clearly that medication would not help her and that she had to run for her life.
Interestingly, she details how each segment of the run affects her:
Now, if I am feeling down, I go for a run. I usually start feeling better almost as I head out the door -- in part, I believe, because I am taking charge and doing something. But by mile four, I can actually feel my thinking beginning to change, from negative to positive, as if four miles, or about 30 minutes, is some kind of threshold. On longer runs, by about mile 13 or 14, I start to feel a mild euphoria. If I run faster, I'll notice it earlier. If I'm doing an easier, slower run, it takes a bit longer.
On really long runs, of 18 to 20 miles or more, the nature of my thoughts go beyond just positive to creative. I start having brainstorms, one after the other, and I begin to feel "one with things," for lack of a better way to describe it. It's like deep meditation in which your personal boundaries open up and you no longer notice where you end and everything else begins.
I have figured out that if I run at least four miles, I feel relaxed, positive and clearheaded, feelings that can last from hours to days. And if I do so consistently, I won't fall into a really dark state.
Dr. Mercola applies Daniele Seiss's story to the general population. Happily, those with mild to moderate depression do not have to run as hard and as far as she does to achieve significant results:
The Best Kept Secret for Treating Depression
As Daniele Seiss was able to discover on her own, regular exercise is one of the “secret weapons” to overcoming depression. It works so well because it helps to normalize insulin resistance while boosting “feel good” hormones in your brain.
In one 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 percent reduction in symptoms
•Participants who did stretching flexibility exercises 15 to 20 minutes three days a week averaged a 29 percent decline
The results of this study are similar to that of other studies, which involved patients with mild or moderate depression being treated with antidepressants or cognitive therapy -- proving patients need not rely on drugs to treat depression.
As Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, said:
“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is, the physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed … physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain.
It changes, increases their levels of “feel good” hormones, the endorphins. And also -- and these are amazing studies -- it can increase the number of cells in your brain, in the region of the brain, called the hippocampus.
These studies have been first done on animals, and it’s very important because sometimes in depression, there are fewer of those cells in the hippocampus, but you can actually change your brain with exercise. So it’s got to be part of everybody’s treatment, everybody’s plan.”
Yes, regular, appropriately intense exercise is a must for most people suffering from depression, and it can go a long way to improving your mood. However, it is still only one part of my overall recommendations for treating depression.