Part of my post alcoholic recovery was a desire to get fit and shed many of the excess kilos I had gained over many years of drinking. I hired a personal trainer and started going to the gym, with the caveat that I wouldn’t be forced into doing any running. Well, that lasted for a few weeks. One cold dark morning, I found myself facing more demons. I refused to run to the toilet, let alone down the street for fun!
What started out as being my worst nightmare, turned out to be probably one of the best things I have ever done. I lost weight, I got fit and I met my beautiful wife along the way. From not being able to run from one lamppost to the next, I found myself running longer and longer distances. From 5k, 10K half marathon and then a full marathon. Yes, all 42.2k’s or 26.2 miles.
The sense of achievement was immense, Crossing the finishing line of each new distance became quite emotional. Breaking my goal time at the Tokyo marathon by nearly 10 minutes did bring the odd tear or two.
Have experienced the highs that running gave me, I thought it would be an interesting exercise (pardon the pun) to see it the medical journals supported running as a means of coping with depression and anxiety. A quick PubMed search produced a potential list of 14,909 articles. far more than I expected. Not having the time to read or digest nearly 15,000 documents, I started to scan my way down the list picking out the most relevant:
Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety; Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM; Int J Psychiatry Med. 2011;41(1):15-28. Concluded that exercise has been shown to be an effective and cost-efficient treatment alternative for a variety of anxiety disorders
Association of Physical Exercise on Anxiety and Depression Amongst Adults; Khanzada FJ, Soomro N, Khan SZ; J Coll Physicians Surg Pak. 2015 Jul;25(7):546-8. doi: 07.2015/JCPSP.546548 found that Chi-square test showed an association between anxiety levels and exercise was significantly increased in non-exercisers compared to regular exercisers found to be significant (p=0.015). Individuals who performed regular exercise had a lower frequency of depression (28.9%) than non-exercisers (41.8%). Physical exercise was significantly associated with lower anxiety and depression frequency amongst the studied adult population.
Exercise or basic body awareness therapy as an add-on treatment for major depression; a controlled study; Danielsson L, Papoulias I, Petersson EL, Carlsson J, Waern M; J Affect Disord. 2014 Oct;168:98-106. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.049. Epub 2014 Jul 5 found that exercise in a physical therapy setting seems to have an effect on depression severity and fitness, in major depression. Our findings suggest that physical therapy can be a viable clinical strategy to inspire and guide persons with major depression to exercise.
Regular physical activity and mental health. The role of exercise in the prevention of, and intervention in depressive disorders; Takács J; Psychiatr Hung. 2014;29(4):386-97. The review suggested a protective effect from activity on the development of clinical levels of depression and depressive symptoms. In addition, the randomized controlled trials support a causal connection between exercise and reduction of depression. In summary, the reviewed studies clearly support the antidepressant effect of exercise.
Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis; Kvam S, Kleppe CL, Nordhus IH, Hovland A; J Affect Disord. 2016 Sep 15;202:67-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.063. Epub 2016 May 20; stated that physical exercise is an effective intervention for depression. It also could be a viable adjunct treatment in combination with antidepressants.
From scanning the majority of articles and taking a closer look at the most relevant ones, there appears to be a consistent theme running through them. Exercise does appear to have a positive effect on people with depression. It can’t be seen a substitute for prescribed anti-depressant drugs, but it has certainly been shown to work very well as an adjunct to the pharmacological treatment.
Knowing what the runners high can be like, I for one, would encourage anyone to ask their medical professional(s) if it was OK for them to include some form of exercise in their treatment for depression.