I’ve always joked that exercise is the medicine for everything, much to my husband’s displeasure. But now there may be a little more scientific evidence behind this idea. A new report from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology is suggesting that exercise may provide just as much relief as medication for people with heart disease who are also depressed.
To conduct the study, researchers examined 101 heart patients with signs of depression. Participants were asked to exercise for just 90 minutes per week in addition to taking the depression medicine Zoloft, and those who complied saw noticeable improvements compared to those who took a placebo pill instead.
More specifically, 37 participants were assigned three exercise sessions per week, 40 were prescribed Zoloft, and 24 were given a placebo. Over the course of the 4-year study, results were collected every four months to gauge which intervention method was most effective.
Researchers used a scale of 0-68 to monitor depression levels; 0-8 was considered normal, and higher scores equaled more severe depression. Before treatment began, each group’s score averaged 13.5 to 14.5. And by the end of the study, scores decreased by 6.1 points in the Zoloft group, 7.5 points in the exercise group, and 4.5 points in the placebo group. In addition, the exercise group was also less likely to report tiredness and sexual problems.
An editorial piece concerning the study, written by Alan Rozanski, noted that exercise is just as important as any other factor in fighting the condition, saying it should be thought of as ‘another potent tool on the shelf’ to fight depression in heart patients.
But as we well know, exercise is not just beneficial for heart disease patients and those with depression; it’s useful for everyone, boasting such important benefits as improved heart health, increased levels of happiness, muscle and bone strength and decreased risk for obesity and obesity-related diseases.
But evidence of exercise being beneficial for heart patients is especially exciting as, according to the study’s authors, close to 40 percent of heart patients have symptoms of depression. And oftentimes, depression can lead to even higher risk of further heart damage.
A related study published this week looked at more than 2,300 people with heart failure. Participants assigned to exercise showed ‘modest reductions in depression symptoms’ as opposed to those who practiced ‘usual care,’ suggesting the extra activity was cause for the improvements.
While more research is still needed in this area before concrete evidence is produced, researchers found the initial results promising, which gives us one more reason to make exercise a part of our daily routines.