The invisible antidepressant
June 16, 2009
Feeling down? Well, if I said you could self-administer an upper that didn’t require a prescription or any skuzzy dealings with the drug underworld or pharmacies in faraway lands, would you want it?
If I told you even more – that this remedy was invisible but real, would you believe me?
Well, maybe you wouldn’t listen to me, but how about the white-coated docs at Duke University Medical Center who ran several studies comparing the benefits of a prescription antidepressant to the benefits of getting your body up and moving?
Intrigued by the many indications that the motion of the body and the state of the mood were connected, the Duke doctors set up a formal study that compared the moods of three groups – those who took an antidepressant, those who did aerobic exercise and those who did both.
After 16 weeks, here’s what they found: People on antidepressants had the most immediate relief of their symptoms, but by the end of the 16 weeks, those who were “just” exercising, had the same relief of symptoms and improvement in mood.
Hi ho – sneakers, just as good as pills. What a concept!
Yep, the folks at Mayo agree and add more: They see four benefits to exercise:
Confidence: You meet a goal, you look better, you feel better. In other words, heads up, knockers out and proud of yourself.
Distraction: You stop dwelling on how bad you feel and shift your thought patterns to more positive channels like walking out to see the sunset.
Interactions: Depression and anxiety can lead to isolation. Going out for a walk with a buddy or going to the gym or an exercise class can get you out of the shell of depression and into some companionship. Even walking Fifi is a companionable experience.
Healthy coping: You’re doing something positive about your downer mood. You aren’t drinking excessively to make yourself feel better and not just sitting around hoping the problem will go away.
I’d add my own benefit: By using exercise as a natural upper, you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way from drug side effects. Some of the side effects from antidepressants include insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, loss of libido, weight gain and ironically, suicidal thoughts. On the other hand, to be fair, some people do report great relief from these drugs. I just wonder if they tried walking in the sunshine as a way of upping their moods. (Lack of light is an acknowledged cause of depression.)
Dr. Gary Sachs of Harvard Medical School says: “Here’s your exercise program. Go to the door. Look at your watch. Walk 7.5 minutes in any direction. Then turn around and walk home. Do that at least five days a week.”
We can do that.
Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, Hot Granny, is available at The Book Seller in Grass Valley. Visit Mel at http://www.melwalsh.com.