Exercise Beats the Blues

Physical activity eases depression among the chronically ill

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Dealing with a chronic illness can often lead to feelings of sadness and depression, which commonly go hand in hand with the desire to curl up into a ball at home.

But the blues and physical inactivity, especially when combined with illness, create a downward spiral that has a strong negative effect both physically and mentally. In other words--get out and exercise, and you will likely feel much better.

"Exercise often to combat depression."

Matthew Herring, Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, led a study on the effects of physical inactivity and depressive symptoms in patients with a chronic illness. Herring and his team evaluated 90 previous studies that covered more than 10,500 sedentary patients with a chronic illness.

Dr. Herring says that both depression and lack of physical activity are common in people who are struggling with chronic illness - and it's already well-known that exercise can decrease depressive symptoms. But just how that works for patients with chronic illness was not systematically studied before now.

The patients from the studies were randomly assigned to either participate in exercise training, or continue with no exercise at all. Depression in the participants was measured both before and after the exercise training.

For the group who received exercise training such as jogging, cycling and resistance exercises, their depressive symptoms were reduced by 22 percent overall. For those who met the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, the results were even more significant.

The largest improvements were seen in the mild-to-moderately depressed who used exercise to improve their function-related outcomes.

Dr. Herring says the results provide evidence to recommend exercise training to patients as a potential low-risk, supplementary treatment for depressive symptoms that may occur in people with chronic illness.

“Also, because some evidence has questioned the efficacy of pharmacotherapy among patients with co-morbid chronic illnesses, there continues to be interest in alternative therapies including exercise,” Dr. Herring adds.

Jack Newman, CEO of The Austin Tennis Academy and USTA Executive Professional, agrees that exercise can have a positive benefit on illness.

"Athletes who are on high-intensity level training programs are less likely to miss practice from illness than those who are on low level training models", said Newman. "As you saw at the Australian Open, successful competitors learn how to deal with negative emotions from a positive lens."

The research findings were published in the January 2012 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 1, 2012
Last Updated:
February 1, 2012