Health Watch -- Exercise and Depression

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Exercise is a known mood lifter, but can it cure depression?

For years, doctors have recommended exercise as a way of improving a bad mood, fighting the blues and relieving stress. Now, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas are setting out to determine whether exercise can actually help cure major depressive disorder.

Depression like this is generally treated with medication. The most commonly prescribed medications are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These include brand names like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Celexa. Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, a UT Southwestern psychiatrist, says that these drugs do help patients feel better, but patients still aren't back to the way they felt before they became depressed.

That's why researchers are working with The Cooper Institute on a federally funded study to see if combining a supervised exercise program with drug therapy will help reduce the symptoms of depression. Doctors believe that exercise will make medication work even better, maybe to the point of helping patients be entirely free of depressive symptoms.

Exercise appears to alter levels of chemicals in the brain that affect mood. These changing chemical levels may help ease depression. Exercise also contributes to better health and an overall sense of well-being. The UT Southwestern researchers will study patients with depression who are taking SSRI drugs to see how regular exercise at home and in a supervised environment affects their progress.


Feb. 2004