Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Exercise: Does it help depressives recover?

The BBC ran a story headlined Depression: Exercise advice questioned when added to standard treatments, but at least one person says the study on which it was based deserves a more skeptical look.

First, an excerpt from the BBC story, posted June 5:

Combining exercise with conventional treatments for depression does not improve recovery, research suggests.

In the NHS-funded study – published in the British Medical Journal – some patients were given help to boost their activity levels in addition to receiving therapy or anti-depressants.

After a year all 361 patients had fewer signs of depression, but there was no difference between the two groups.

Current guidelines suggest sufferers do up to three exercise sessions a week.

Scientific American blogger Scicurious had the following reply on June 11:

In sum, this study did not assess whether exercise helps symptoms of depression. What it assessed was whether someone encouraging you to exercise helped your feelings of depression, regardless of whether you exercised or not.

Is it a well-designed study? Yes, for what it is. Was it well-performed? Not really. Is it well-analyzed? I don’t really think so. And was it well reported, in the press release and on? Definitely not. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, the responses of various professionals on the BMJ site itself have pointed out similar flaws.

The fact is, this study does not show that exercise has no effect on depression. It shows that this specific intervention, having someone encourage you to exercise, does not help depression. Not only that, it only shows that having someone encourage you to exercise doesn’t help depression scores on top of normal antidepressant treatment. But that sounds a lot less surprising and interesting, now doesn’t it.

What we need here is a better study. We need a trial where some receive therapy, some receive antidepressants, some receive exercise (and I’m talking someone being with you when you work out and meeting specific exercise goals that are readily measured and defined), and some receive combinations of these interventions. Then we’ll have something that I believe. This study? This doesn’t fit the bill.

The advice I’ve consistently received from doctors is that exercise is very important to recovery. Even if it didn’t cause your recovery to advance, per se, at least you’ll be a fit depressive. :)

And while the effect might be temporary, one does get a mood lift from a real workout.

While it’s not the focal point of the post, I have more on exercise and depression in My tussle with severe depression — the story so far, posted Feb. 7.

Wed, June 20 2012 » * Big Picture Stuff, Main Page