Does Exercise Help Depression and Anxiety?

Running or jogging doesn't have to kill you to get benefit

Running or jogging doesn’t have to kill you to get benefit

I had an interesting conversation with a patient at the pharmacy that got me thinking about doing a post about this. This patient came a week or two ago and got a prescription for buspirone, which is used for anxiety. The patient was concerned with it because this person desperately wanted to get rid of the feeling of anxiety that they were suffering with.

The patient returned and I asked how it was going (We’ll call the patient Casey). The response was that not much had changed. Casey petitioned for more help, but this time to me, rather than the doctor.

My response?

Are you eating well? Are you doing any exercise at all?

Casey told me that neither was really in place. Casey also told me that a problem child at home was a great source of the anxiety. Casey also discussed how the previous week that he’d gone on a walk and that seemed to help a bit.

I’ve met others like Casey in the pharmacy before, and still see some of them. I’ve had people so anxious for their anxiety meds they were crying. I’ve seen people on the verge of hyperventilation. I’ve seen people, who on the surface appear normal, but after talking for a minute or two, they start divulging secrets about their lives that would make you and me stressed out too.

I used to get anxiety attacks. They would come at the most random times too. I remember once in high school in spanish class sitting at my desk, when suddenly I became hot and felt like I couldn’t breathe at all. I was more panicked about not feeling like I could breathe more than anything else. It wasn’t pleasant.

I don’t think during high school a lack of movement was my problem. I could eat anything and not gain a pound (being a male teenager has some advantages), but my diet probably was helping.

As I got older and started focusing more on my intake rather than my output, the attacks subsided. After learning about EFT (emotional freedom technique) or tapping, I was able to rid myself of the attacks all together.

Since I’ve graduated and been able to keep a more balanced routine, I haven’t had to do any tapping and the exercise is regular, rather than disjointed. Anxiety is nowhere to be seen, but I still get stressed from time to time. Between 4 kids, a wonderful wife, full-time job, blog, church duties, getting a house ready to sell, and writing a book, it’s hard to make sure I don’t go insane.

This is one reason I continue to exercise. It keeps my stress down, my happiness up, and bad things, like my wife’s recent trip where the windshield got busted, not so bad.

So What Kind of Exercise Should I Do?

In one study of depressed women [1], researchers found that aerobic running was just as good as weightlifting to reduce symptoms of depression compared to controls.

Another study showed pretty much the same thing; there was no real difference between aerobic and non-aerobic exercise in reducing depression. [2]

Another showed that aerobic exercise from 50-70% of maximal capacity was enough to decrease depression as well. [3]

One study showed that running was better than tennis which was better than softball, the latter having no effect. [4] While the findings were significant, even the authors noted that because they did nothing to conceal the reason behind the exercise, and even allowed some to choose which they were going to participate in, the results could have been different.

A study of men and women found that running helped more so with women than men, and was more influenced by the amount of physical fitness. [5]

In a study of men; exercise, meditation, and a comfy recliner all produced reductions in anxiety [6]. It should be noted that it was a quiet time in the recliner, not TV or kids time.

Another study showed similar benefits with walking/jogging at 70% maximum capacity. [7]

Of note, a study looking at relaxation training seemed to help introverts more than extroverts. [8] This really doesn’t have so much to do with exercise, but if you’re an introvert like me, relaxation may help in the anxiety department.

Swimmers seem to also derive benefit from exercise, feeling better after a swim than before. [9]

I think you get the point. Exercise is beneficial to reducing stress, anxiety and improving mood. Don’t worry if you can’t run a mile. Go for a walk. Don’t worry about not being able to do a push up, do knee push ups or on the wall. Do some squats. Take a walk with a significant other. Maybe you just need to run after the ice cream truck and give him a high-five for dispensing some of the best medication on earth (in moderation of course). Whatever it is, get moving and feel the anxiety or depression melt away.

CIAO

 

1.Doyne, Elizabeth J., et al. “Running versus weight lifting in the treatment of depression.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55.5 (1987): 748.

2.Martinsen, Egil W., Asle Hoffart, and Øyvind Solberg. “Comparing aerobic with nonaerobic forms of exercise in the treatment of clinical depression: a randomized trial.” Comprehensive psychiatry 30.4 (1989): 324-331.

3.Martinsen, Egil W., A. Medhus, and L. Sandvik. “Effects of aerobic exercise on depression: a controlled study.” BMJ 291.6488 (1985): 109-109.

4.Brown, Robert S., Donald E. Ramirez, and John M. Taub. “The prescription of exercise for depression.” The Physician and Sportsmedicine 6.12 (1978): 34-37.

5.Jasnoski, Mary L., David S. Holmes, and David L. Banks. “Changes in personality associated with changes in aerobic and anaerobic fitness in women and men.” Journal of psychosomatic research 32.3 (1988): 273-276.

6.Bahrke, Michael S., and William P. Morgan. “Anxiety reduction following exercise and meditation.” Cognitive therapy and research 2.4 (1978): 323-333.

7.Young, R. J. “The effect of regular exercise on cognitive functioning and personality.” British journal of sports medicine 13.3 (1979): 110-117.

8.Stoudenmire, John. “Effects of muscle relaxation training on state and trait anxiety in introverts and extraverts.” Journal of personality and social psychology 24.2 (1972): 273.

9.Berger, Bonnie G., and David R. Owen. “Mood Alteration with Swimming-Swimmers Really Do” Feel Better”.” Psychosomatic medicine 45.5 (1983): 425-433.

 

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