Exercise may not help depression

BBC News have posted on their site today that new research suggests exercise as treatment for clinical depression makes little to no improvement for patient’s recovery.

You can read more about the study here and their results. What do you think about this NHS-funded study and its results?

If the NHS now believe that exercise doesn’t have an impact on clinical depression, those with the condition will simply stop exercising because they won’t see the point.  Then they will fall into a trap one of my family members has; he eats because he’s down, he doesn’t see the benefits of exercise therefore he doesn’t do any, he gets insecure because he’s gained weight and then eats because he’s down – a typical vicious cycle. When you’re depressed, things you know you need to do become difficult in day to day life, let alone things that have just been discredited by doctors.

Whether it helps long-term or not, exercise should be actively encouraged regardless because of its potential to release endorphins and boost self-esteem. We shouldn’t be spending money trying to give people more reasons not to get fit.

The obesity epidemic in Britain has gotten much worse in recent years and the government have been trying to encourage a more active lifestyle to save the NHS time and millions of pounds. So this new research seems completely counter-productive to me.

Do you agree/disagree? Does this research irritate you as much as it has done me?

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15 thoughts on “Exercise may not help depression

    • I think it depends on where the clinical depression is stemming from. If it is a chemical imbalance, exercise won’t help. But from my experience and my therapist’s experience from 30 years in the mental health care industry, some people develop clinical depression out of forming negative thought cycles and making them natural for you to think, as opposed a more positive or realistic viewpoint on life. If it’s bad cognitive habits you’ve formed that has created it, I think exercise would definitely help. At the very least, it can get you out of the house, socialising and in the fresh air which is great for everyone, regardless of what mental health issue they’re suffering from. I just can’t help but feel that this will prevent doctors from suggesting exercise to patients recently diagnosed with depression when it might just be the thing they need.

  1. Dont get me started… like you say it’ll be another reason for people to not get fit. I could go on, but I wont. Well maybe a little, I was running past my local hospital the other day and saw, a man no with no legs in a wheelchair – on a drip and he was smoking. Need I say more!!

  2. As a very clinically depressed person who exercises a lot, I’d say this study is kind of a relief. I went through a long period of time where I beat myself up because exercise wasn’t helping my depression even though every other English major on Livestrong told me it should be. I’d get up at noon, go for a six mile run, and the endorphins would maybe get me through forty five minutes before I’d sink back again. I just figured that I was doing something wrong. Everyone should exercise, depressed or not, and if a depressed person “doesn’t see the point” of exercise, that feeling probably extends to a lot of other things in their lives. I think this might actually help a little with the victim blaming, “just stop moping around” aspect of depression and help people to actually seek medical and psychiatric treatment. There’s a difference between a bad mood and a neuro-chemical imbalance. Exercising boosts your endorphins, but it doesn’t make up for other deficits that are behind major depression. When I came to terms with that and stopped telling myself that I was “just bummed out because I wasn’t exercising enough”, I sought out actual treatment–and then guess what? I started exercising more often and got healthier in all those other ways normal people should!

    I see your point about the obesity epidemic and people who may use this as an excuse, but this isn’t the same as a study saying that you can eat dessert for breakfast and still lose weight. It might actually help people who actually have a problem get the help they need. Anyone who uses it as an excuse not to exercise was most likely just looking for an excuse anyway. Only people who want to get better will go to the lengths necessary for that to happen.

    • Thanks for your input on the matter, it is helpful to get input from someone directly affected by an issue. “Anyone who uses it as an excuse not to exercise was most likely just looking for an excuse anyway” – couldn’t agree more. I think what bothered me about this new research though is they haven’t provided an alternative. Some people can’t afford medication and psychotherapy, so I can see why healthcare professionals would encourage exercise as it can be done for free, but to say that exercise is unlikely to help and yet not have any alternatives that are accessible hardly gives the patients hope. I remember when I was younger and had clinical depression, I was the youngest person our doctor’s surgery had ever had to put on antidepressants to make sure I didn’t cause serious harm to myself. I had little hope at one point, therapy wasn’t working, meds were only making me numb and I had lost hope. My doctor simply replied to me “I think you best accept that you are the type of person that will always struggle with mental health.” and that to me was an awful thing to hear, while your doctors have suggestions, there is hope. You know? I’m not sure I can fully explain why I’m not happy with this. But you’re right, maybe it will actually be of more benefit to those who are clinically depressed more than of detriment. Who knows? I guess we’ll find out over the next 12 or so months maybe. I hope I didn’t cause any offence by what I said in my original post, it really isn’t my intention. 🙂

    • I also elaborated a bit more on a comment above to Amy that I wanted to put here but ran out of room, I hope it clears things up a little if you thought I was being close-minded. If you thought I was just genuinely sharing my viewpoint, asking for others’ and I didn’t cause you offence and you just wanted to throw in your two cents then that’s alrighty. I’m just a little bit paranoid now that I’ve upset you by seeming insensitive, which I really didn’t mean to do.

      • Don’t worry! I didn’t feel offended, I was just worried about that there was an important upside being left out. I’ve been told frustrating things by doctors and counselors as well and was permitted by one doctor, who I think thought he was trying to save me some money, to go off of SSRI’s cold turkey which resulted in some very dangerous side effects. There’s a lot of misinformation based on tabboo. I also have several friends who struggle with mental illness more severe than mine, so I’ve become a little bit of a mental health awareness crusader. I just don’t want anyone to go through the same self-reproach that I did if they don’t have to! Also I probably wouldn’t have said anything at all if I didn’t think you were open minded and would consider other viewpoints! Sorry if I came off as too forceful!

      • Not at all. I had a feeling that you were simply just discussing it with me, but it’s sometimes hard to know how the other person is feeling due to the lack of tone in a voice and body language. Correct me if I’m wrong as I’m not 100% sure, but doesn’t exercise stabilise serotonin levels? Surely that’s got to be of some help to a lot of people with depression.

      • Common knowledge and a few books I’ve read say they can–along with omega-3’s and low sugar and alcohol, etc. I’m not a hundred percent on that one either. I think exercise can make a major difference in depression of any kind and also in correcting negative self-image and thought patterns like you mentioned before. Many people who have severe depression have unstable levels of dopamine and norepinephrine and don’t have issues with their serotonin levels at all–a fact you can’t really know unless you do med trials which SUCK. I’m not a medical expert, but I do know that dopamine is associated with pleasure and that exercise can stimulate pleasure centers as well. If someone is working from a major deficit and already has a lot of bad habits in place (both in thought and in exercise/diet), exercise alone won’t be able to make a big enough dent and that can end up being super-frustrating. There are plenty of ways to hate yourself AND exercise, especially if you don’t think you’re progressing fast enough or the way you want to. I think it should be a goal for people who do use medication to not be on it forever–to just use it as training wheels to develop good thought patterns and a healthy lifestyle. That’s what I’m hoping will work anyway. Lots to think about–super interesting topic! Thanks for chatting!

      • And thanks for your input. It’s always nice to engage in a discussion about these type of things. Usually they turn into an argument depending on who you’re talking to, so I was wondering what response I’d get by posting about it on here, haha. Maybe if I’d have put it on tumblr or FB it would’ve have gotten out of hand (I once got into a very heated discussion about Troy Davis on FB by a ‘friend’ who is a blatant racist), but thankfully I’ve gotten no abuse from discussing potentially controversial things on here.. yet. 😛

  3. I disagree with this, but I have been in that vicious cycle many times. To me, working out is like therapy actually, but I enjoy being active. I have friends who find it pointless to work out and don’t find many benefits in doing so… I think it comes up to what works for each one of us but I definitely do think that people who work out constantly are way happier than the ones who don’t.

    • Working out is also my therapy, too. But then again admittedly I do not struggle with clinical depression, I suffer from stress so exercise is fantastic for that. 🙂

      Emily (oolalang) below brings up some very valid points and I think your point of those who work out tend to be happier than those who don’t. I think it’s hard to say for sure what will work and what won’t because depression comes about in people for different reasons, sometimes therapy helps you overcome it and sometimes simple things developed into a habit can cure imbalances in your body causing clinical depression.

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