by Kim Painter USA Today May. 16, 2010 12:00 AM
Most people seeking treatment for depression
or anxiety face two choices: medication or psychotherapy. But there's a third choice that is rarely prescribed, though it comes with few side effects, low costs and a list of added benefits, advocates say.
The treatment: exercise.
"It's become clear that this is a good intervention, particularly for mild to moderate depression," says Jasper Smits, a psychologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
It's no secret that exercise often boosts mood. Now, data pooled from many small studies suggest that in people diagnosed with depression or anxiety, the immediate mood boost is followed by longer-term relief, similar to that offered by medication and talk therapy, says Daniel Landers, a professor emeritus in the department of kinesiology at Arizona State University.
And exercise seems to work better than relaxation, meditation, stress education and music therapy, Landers says.
Many physicians may not be comfortable prescribing exercise; Smits and another researcher, Michael Otto of Boston University, are on a mission to change that. The two have written a guidebook for mental-health professionals and are working on guides for primary-care physicians and consumers.
But Smits is quick to say that medications and psychotherapy are good treatments, too, and can be combined with exercise.
• What kind of exercise works? Most studies have focused on aerobic exercise but have not ruled out strength training or other regimens.
• How much is needed? At least one study shows results from the amount recommended for physical health: 150 minutes of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as running) each week.
• How does it help? Does it boost certain brain chemicals? Induce deeper sleep? Give patients a sense of action and accomplishment?
• Can it prevent initial bouts or recurrences of depression and anxiety?
"I don't think exercise will ever be the only treatment, but it may be a major part of preventing recurrences," says Michelle Riba, a psychiatrist
at the University of Michigan. "It should be part of everybody's plan of health."
Exercise can ease anxiety
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