A new study bolsters the evidence that exercise can help treat depression — but it's still no magic bullet.
Research has long suggested that exercise could benefit depressed people. Now the Times reports on a new study of patients who didn't respond to SSRI medication. These patients were assigned to take either a ten-minute leisurely walk or a thirty-minute brisk walk per day (or an equivalent exercise in some other form). Nearly thirty percent of those who exercised experienced remission of their depression, which lead study author Dr. Madhukar H. Trivedi called "a very robust result."
Still, the results are a bit confusing. In general, those who followed the more strenuous program were more likely to recover. But women with a family history of depression actually did better with the lighter exercise regimen — and many women in this group saw no benefit from exercise at all. Also, the study didn't have a control group, and all participants continued taking SSRIs — so their improvement could have come in part just from staying on the drugs for a while longer.
While the study doesn't provide conclusive proof of the benefits of exercise, it does point the way to some possible future research. Patients clearly respond differently to exercise depending on family history and other factors — perhaps exercise programs could be tailored specifically to their various needs. There's been a lot of talk recently about genetic testing to help doctors prescribe antidepressants — maybe one day genetic testing or other forms of evaluation could help them prescribe exercise too.
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