Can Exercise Help with Depression Treatment?

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Exercise is known to help relieve stress, boost spirits, and fight symptoms of depression, but can a regular exercise routine combined with targeted medications actually cure major depressive disorder?

University of Texas-Southwestern researchers, along with The Cooper Institute in Dallas, hope to find an answer by studying how individuals treated with certain antidepressant medications respond to supervised exercise.

The study focuses on individuals who are taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and who are also participating in a 24-week exercise program. SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed medications for depression and include such drugs as fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and citalopram (Celexa™).

"The majority of people who start on an SSRI feel better after they begin treatment, but they still don't feel completely well or as good as they did before they became depressed," said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, associate professor of psychiatry and head of the depression and anxiety disorders program at the university. He found that while patients' symptoms are decreased, they seldom achieve full remission.

"Exercise may have a synergistic or additive effect combined with antidepressant medication, which could provide significant benefits over singular treatment methods," he said.

"There also is some suggestion that exercise can change neurotransmitter levels, like those of serotonin, in the brain. These changes in neurochemicals have been reported to help improve symptoms of depression. Plus, we already know that exercise can have a positive effect on a person's overall health and well-being."

The goal of the study was to determine whether exercise might help augment treatment with SSRIs to the point of reducing all the symptoms of depression.

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