Depression Treatment: Exercise vs. Antidepressants

exercise from wix

Nineteen million people are affected by depression and more than $86 billion is spent on anti-depression medication each year.  Since anti-depressants are the most well-known treatments for depression, many people turn there first.  But medication isn’t the only treatment option.  Therapy is an effective treatment for depression, both combined with medication, and independent of it.  I’ll write about therapy and depression for another day.  Today’s post is about a third option that costs less, is equally effective, and its effects last longer.  This secret treatment option: Exercise.  Several studies have found that regular exercise can be as effective as medical antidepressants in treating depression.  Are you intrigued?  Let’s look at some information on the two treatments and see how they compare.

Antidepressant Medication
Cost: Ranges from $21/month to over $1000/month
Time to wait for results: 6-8 weeks.  Some people report results within 2 weeks, but for most people, full effect takes 6-8 weeks.
Likelihood of being effective: 3 out of 5 people will see depression improved the first time they start taking medication
Side effects:  Negative side-effects can include an inability to sleep, dizziness, nausea, weight gain, increased anxiety, decreased sex drive and can lead to suicidal ideation.   According to a 2011 analysis conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 63% of individuals on antidepressant medication experience at least one side effect.

Cost: Running is free; average gym membership costs between $40-$50 per month
Time to wait for results: Unknown; comparative studies show results apparent at six weeks
Likelihood of being effective: 60% with low and mild depression
Side effects: Negative side-effect is the potential for soreness or injury
Additional benefits: Positive side-effects include decreased anxiety, improved sleep, increased energy, elevated mood, increased libido, weight loss, improved locus of control and enhanced memory.  Also, those who exercise, compared with those taking antidepressant medication, were found less likely to have relapsed ten months later (70% vs. 48%).

Exercise is a great low-cost natural antidepressant with additional health benefits.  It can be a great supplement to your current treatment, or it can be a great place to start if you have been experiencing depressive symptoms and haven’t yet sought help.  It is the first thing that I like to recommend to clients who present to therapy with depression.  Why not try something that is low-cost, that has been found to be as effective as medication, and helps you feel better in several areas in your life?  Even if you aren’t depressed, you can still reap the benefits of exercise.  So what are you waiting for?  Put on your running (or walking) shoes, and get moving!

If you are accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle or have a health condition, consult your doctor before starting an exercise routine.