DURHAM, N.C.--A brisk 30-minute walk or jog around the track three times a week may be just as effective in relieving the symptoms of major depression as the standard treatment of anti-depressant medications, according to the results of a Duke University Medical Center study.
The researchers studied 156 elderly patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and assigned them to three groups: exercise, medication, or a combination of medication and exercise. To the surprise of the researchers, after 16 weeks all three groups showed statistically significant and similar improvement in measurements of depression.
"One of the conclusions we can draw from this is that exercise may be just as effective as medication and may be a better alternative for certain patients," said the lead researcher, Duke psychologist James Blumenthal, who published the results of his team's study in the Oct. 25 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine. The research is supported by a number of grants from the National Institutes of Health.
"While we don't know why exercise confers such a benefit, this study shows that exercise should be considered as a credible form of treatment for these patients," Blumenthal said in an interview. "Almost one-third of depressed patients in general do not respond to medications, and for others, the medications can cause unwanted side effects. Exercise should be considered a viable option."
While the researchers studied middle-aged and elderly people, Blumenthal said the results probably hold true for the general population. "Because the elderly tend to have additional medical problems that might make regular exercise difficult, this is the most difficult group to test the exercise hypothesis."
Symptoms of MDD, as defined by the psychiatric reference book Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV), include depressed mood or loss of interest
or pleasure combined with at least four of the following:
Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center