Doctors may soon be able to recommend exercise as a viable alternative to drug therapy for patients with depression. According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine (2007; 69, 587–96), patients who exercised in a group program achieved reductions in depression comparable to those seen in patients taking a standard antidepressant medication. For patients who exercised on their own at home, the result was somewhat less strong than it was for either the supervised exercisers or those taking prescription drugs. Home-based exercisers, however, still improved more than control group members who took a placebo.
Investigators from Duke University Medical Center, Emory University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill divided 202 adults diagnosed with major depression into four groups (medication, group exercise, home exercise and placebo) and evaluated their depression for 16 weeks. After 4 months the following percentages of patients were free of depressive symptoms: 47% of those on medication; 45% in the group exercise cohort; 40% of home exercisers; and 31% in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that exercise had a positive impact on individuals with depression. Lead study author James Blumenthal, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center, noted that “placebo response rates were high, suggesting that a considerable portion of the therapeutic response is determined by patient expectations, ongoing symptom monitoring, attention and other nonspecific factors.” More research was recommended.