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Study Finds Dose of Healthy Exercise Rivals Anti-depression Drugs-(Duke U.)

(U-WIRE) DURHAM, N.C. -- Sometimes, a healthy lifestyle can prove to be just as helpful as an expensive drug.

A new Duke University Medical Center study found that a simple exercise program can be a viable alternative to anti-depression medication.

"Patients over age 50 with major depression were assigned to three-times-per-week exercise programs for four months," said Dr. James Blumenthal, a professor of medical psychiatry and lead author of the study. "We found this exercise training to be just as effective as anti-depression medication."

The study's 156 patients were either assigned to an exercise program, given effective medication or both. There was no placebo or no-treatment group.

In the end, all three groups showed comparable levels of improvement; 60 percent of the patients in the study no longer met the criteria for major depression. Studies comparing the effects of exercise and medication have been done before on college students, but no one had ever done a study involving clinically depressed patients.

Blumenthal noted that the researchers had some good luck in conducting the study; for the most part, patients followed their programs with zeal.

"The patients were pretty motivated from the start," he said. "They wanted to get better and saw exercise as potentially helpful."

In addition, the team was particularly successful at getting the patients to exercise.

"The adherence factor was quite outstanding, as four out of five patients stayed with [the exercise program]."

Blumenthal also attributed this outcome to the researchers' persistence; a patient who missed a workout would be contacted by the research team, making it more difficult to simply drop out of the program.

However, he is not sure why exercising helped so much. One possibility is that completing an exercise program gives patients a new sense of mastery and accomplishment.

Anastasia Georgiades, a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, praised the study's findings and emphasized the advantages of a behavioral intervention versus a biological one.

"You would avoid all the negative effects of medications... that might reduce the patients' quality of life-exercise has few side effects," she said.

Although newer anti-depression drugs have fewer side effects than older ones, they can still cause anxiety, sleeping problems and an increased heart rate. Also, the newest medications can be fairly expensive.

The study's findings pave the way for using exercise as a possible preventive technique.

"[Exercising] might prevent the patient, potentially, from becoming depressed," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal is currently working on a study that will explore the effects of group support on exercise in clinically depressed patients. This new study will test the effectiveness of a home-based exercise program.

  (From HealthWorld Online)


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