Depression and Exercise

As previously highlighted, regular exercise can be an effective treatment for those struggling with depression. Yet a new study has highlighted that the body of a depressed individual takes longer to recover from exercise. Further study is required as to why this is the case.As discussed in an earlier blog in Life Works, physical exercise is a great supplement to enhance recovery from depression. Studies have even shown that even as a treatment on its own, it has enormous benefits. But a recent study in America turned the idea on its head. The study asked: “Does the presence of depression change how the body responds to exercise?” This initially sounds like a rather pedantic question, but researchers have found that the link between depression and exercise could have a clear relationship with early mortality


Thesis and method of the study

The findings from the study, which was published in the journal “Psychophysiology”, confirm the relationship between depression and heart disease.   886 adults took part in the study - 51 of which were known to have a diagnosis of major depression. All of the subjects were asked to take part in a period of physical exercise (in this case working out on a treadmill) and then afterwards they were given a stress test. In order to equate how their bodies were responding, their blood pressure and heart rates were measured both at rest and during the exercise test - as well as at one-minute and five-minute intervals afterward. The researchers found that it took significantly longer for the depressed subjects’ heart rates to slow down to normal after the stress test. The difference was about 3.7 beats a minute.

How can these findings be interpreted?

3.7 beats a minute may seem a ridiculously small amount, but when these results are matched with an earlier study taken over 7 years, the scientists concerns become clearer. In the earlier study 2000 men were analysed in exactly the same way but in the follow up it was found that all the individuals who died during the period of monitoring all had heart rates which took a long time to recover.

Dr. Bacon who led the study agrees that it is still unknown why the heart should respond in such a way in depressed patients. However, the theory is patients suffering from a depressive illness have a dysfunctional stress response. This of course does not mean they should refrain from taking exercise as treatment – on the contrary it is a necessary outlet – but it has given doctors greater insight into the side effects into depression treatment and confirms the fact that it should not be taken lightly and treated as soon as possible.

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