Exercise: It Does A Mind GoodBy | On Aug 07, 2012
During a recent radio interview, I was asked to comment on the benefits of exercise. Now mind you, the segment only had another 5 minutes or so, sans commercial interruption, so I decided to concentrate on some lesser known and more recently revealed exercise benefits.
Most everyone is aware of the positive effects exercise can have on the cardiovascular system. People are quite aware that regular exercise is a critical adjunct to any successful long term weight loss plan. However, the benefits of exercise are now extending beyond the conventional wisdom.
Increasingly exercise is being recognized as a potent therapy for treating depressive symptoms and disorders. In these increasingly stressful times we seem to be more and more inundated with quick fix pills and programs for everything and anything that might trouble us. There seems to be a rapid rise in the type and number of psychotropic medications available to treat those times you feel trapped with Debbie Downer-not to mention little Debbie can lead you astray with her cakes and cookies. All these recourses come with an important and potent list of side effects and disclaimers.
Previous research had shown that for middle aged women, regular exercise was as potent as a single anti-depressive medication in decreasing the signs and symptoms of depression; without the side effect profile. Now that list is expanding.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that ninety minutes of aerobic exercise per week reduced depressive symptoms in patients with stable coronary heart disease (CHD) to the same extent as did sertraline (an anti-depressive medication)[i]. The study examined over 100 patients. In particular, they researchers looked at a group of coronary heart disease patients who met the criteria for major depressive disorder. They found that exercise was more likely to alleviate their depressive symptoms than sertraline therapy; 40% in the exercise group compared to 10% in the sertraline group. All this benefit with a better side effect profile; 20% of the sertraline group reported worsening fatigue compared to only 2.4% of the exercise group. Only 2.4% of the exercise group experienced increased sexual problems, but 26% of the sertraline group reported issues.
Another study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found similar results among patients suffering from heart failure[ii]. This study confirmed that modest exercise, 90-120 minutes per week reduced depressive symptoms in heart failure patients. This is important as we are increasingly becoming aware of how our mental and emotional well-being is inextricably linked to our physical state of health. The study’s author, Dr. Blumenthal from Duke University, noted that this is particularly meaningful “in light of the growing evidence that depression is associated with increased risk for fatal and nonfatal events in a wide range of CHD populations.”
In fact, the reduction in depressive symptoms in heart failure patients translated into a modest but real reduction in the incidence of death and need for hospitalization in this group. The mind is a powerful organ and implicit in an understanding of the mind is an acknowledgement that there is a powerful emotional aspect. This is an inescapable aspect of who we are and affects our health as forcefully as drugs and disease. Exercise does a body good. That’s a fact we are all well aware of; now you know it does your mind good as well.
[i] (James A. Blumenthal, et al., 2012)
[ii] (James A. Blumenthal, et al., 2012)
James A. Blumenthal, P., Andrew Sherwood, P., Michael A. Babyak, P., Lana L. Watkins, P., Patrick J. Smith, P., Benson M. Hoffman, P., et al. (2012). Exercise and Pharmacological Treatment of Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Coronary Heart DiseaseResults From the UPBEAT (Understanding the Prognostic Benefits of Exercise and Antidepressant Therapy) Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2012.04.040.
James A. Blumenthal, P., Michael A. Babyak, P., Christopher O’Connor, M., Steven Keteyian, P., Joel Landzberg, M., Jonathan Howlett, M., et al. (2012). Effects of Exercise Training on Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Chronic Heart FailureThe HF-ACTION Randomized Trial. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 308(5):465-474.