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Light to Moderate Exercise Can Improve Anxiety and Depression

The snow has finally melted and our days are slowly getting warmer.  People all over are hitting the gym just a little bit harder than normal to try and shed that pesky winter weight in time for swimsuit season! While we all know the physical health benefits of exercise, more studies are linking exercise to improvement of mental health. The benefits have proven particularly helpful in improving symptoms of anxiety and depression.

As you may know, this week is National Anxiety and Depression week. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million American adults are affected by an anxiety disorder, and nearly 14.8 million suffer from some kind of depressive mood disorder each year.  In an experiment by Dr. James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University even suggests that regular exercise not only decreases the current symptoms but also could prevent a relapse.

Dr. Blumenthal assigned sedentary adults with major depressive disorder to one of four groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy, or a placebo pill. After four months of treatment, he found, patients in the exercise and antidepressant groups had higher rates of remission than the patients on the placebo. Exercise, he concluded, was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder. Dr. Blumenthal followed up with the patients 12 months later and found that the subjects who continued regular exercise had lower depression scores than did their less active counterparts.

There has not been conclusive evidence on what kind of exercise is most effective in treating anxiety and depression. Most studies have focused on aerobic exercise, though some research suggests weight training may be just as effective. If you are new to the gym world, the best thing to remember is to start off moderately; don’t overdo it! Start off doing a few minutes of light cardio such as walking on the treadmill or riding the stationary bike. As long as you are able to have a conversation without feeling out of breath, you are within your “respiratory threshold.” Staying within your threshold will provide you nearly an immediate mood boost!

“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” says Dr.  Michael Otto, a professor of psychology at Boston University. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”

See link below for more information on the study.