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Exercise may be as effective as medication for battling depression, researchers suggest.

"People who are ready to make a commitment and can mobilize themselves and actually start exercising can really expect the same kind of beneficial result that they might get with other kinds of treatment," said researcher Dr. Steve Herman of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Researchers assigned 156 patients over the age of 50 who suffered from a major depressive disorder to one of three treatments:

*Exercise three times per week for a total of 45 minutes
*Medication with sertraline (Zoloft)
*Both exercise and the medication.

After 4 months, the investigators found that all patients had experienced a significant drop in symptoms of depression, with very little difference in the therapeutic effect between the three groups. Between 60% and 70% of the patients in all groups no longer met criteria for major depressive disorder at the study's conclusion.

In addition, researchers found that the patients in the exercise group were more likely to continue to be partially or fully recovered than those in the medication group.

At 6 months, fewer than 10% of the exercise patients had relapsed, compared with almost 40% of the medication patients, and just over 30% of the medication and exercise patients.

Researchers conclude that exercise is a viable, and at least equally effective, alternative to traditional medical treatment involving drugs.

Psychosomatic Medicine September/October 2000;62:633-638.

Dr. Mercola's Comment: Many of us forget that exercise can be used as a drug. It is one of the absolute best treatments for insomnia, weight control, and reducing insulin resistance. It is also a wonderful aid in the treatment of depression.

When using exercise as a drug it will be important to have as a goal at least one hour per day, every day. Obviously, depending on one's current condition, one needs to work slowly up to this level. My experience is that weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, running, Nordic Track, Health Rider are better than cycling and swimming.

Cycling and swimming take far longer to produce the same benefit and each have their own problems. If you are cycling outdoors you run the risk of being killed or injured by a motor vehicle. Swimming is usually done in chlorinated pools, which has its own problems. However if you are able to swim in the ocean, the salt water provides an incredible synergism that far exceeds the value of the exercise.

The practical problem with using exercise in depression is that the desire to pursue any activity, let alone exercise, is not very high. The converse though also needs to be considered. Just because one exercises, that does not mean you cannot become depressed. Exercise makes it easier to treat depression, but it certainly dos not cure it in everyone.

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