Dr Madhukar Trivedi, leading the study, commented: "Many people who start on an antidepressant medication feel better after they begin treatment, but they still don't feel completely well or as good as they did before they became depressed."
The findings are the result of a four year study of adults, aged 18 to 70, who had been diagnosed with depression, on average, seven years earlier.The patients were split into two groups, one following a moderate exercise programme, while the other group followed a more strenuous programme. At the end of the four years almost a third were in full remission, while one in five had significantly reduced symptoms of depression.
"The study shows that exercise can be as effective as adding another medication," said Dr Trivedi. "Many people would rather use exercise than add another drug, particularly as exercise has a proven positive effect on a person's overall health and well-being."
The report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry also indicated that the most beneficial type of exercise depended on the individual characteristics of the patient. For example, women with a family history of depression benefitted more from less strenuous exercise than those women with no previous family history of the condition. Overall, men benefitted most from high intensity exercise.
Dr Trivedi added that this was an important finding in that it illustrated that, in order to derive most benefit, the exercise programme needed to be tailored to the characteristics of the patient. He suggested that follow up studies should focus on what exercise plan is most effective for each patient type.
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