Depression patients can be treated with physical exercise, rather than meds. This is according to Scientific American (January 2017), which published an extensive article on the subject.
Turns out, physical activity like jogging, dancing, Zumba or going to the gym is at least as effective as antidepressant medication. Considering the side effects of antidepressants and their cost, the benefits are clear.
Depression affects around 350 million people worldwide – it’s 20 times more than population of the Netherlands – and most do not receive proper treatment. So should they all go to the gym? The answer could be yes.
For the past 30 years, many academics and therapists have been researching the benefits of exercising for treating depressed patients. Even though they do not all reach the same conclusions, the vast majority confirm that regular “moderate to vigorous” exercising does prove very effective.
So how much exercise is good?
SciAm author Ferris Jabr suggests that if “you can talk on the phone you’re not exercising with the right intensity”. He also prescribes three to five workouts per week. Even though it’s too early to say how many times a week is best with enough scientific evidence, so far three to five times seem to work at least for his patients.
So why is exercising so good? It’s all in the chemistry. Body chemistry starts changing when we start exercising. But it’s also social – we simply feel and look better, become more confident and combined with all the changed chemistry we are more resilient to stress. Less stress means less depression.
Easier said than done though. Naturally, working out is not a panacea. For many, treatments should be combined, but insurance will rarely pay for the gym. There are definitely cheaper alternatives like running or working out at home, but they’re not so easy to start with when you’re depressed.
If exercise is proving so effective, here is my question – can we use coaching to support people have regular workouts? Can we skip all those meds with their side effects? Can positive psychology and coaching tools be used to help those with depression feel and look better? I would like to try and see.