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Running vs Antidepressants - Full Article

Snippit:  Boosting endorphins with physical activity

Depression and anxiety are both common mental health issues in the U.S. In addition to the impact these issues have on someone’s mental well-being, they can affect physical health.

Some of the physical health problems tied to depression include:

  • chronic joint pain

  • sleep disturbance

  • gastrointestinal problems

  • psychomotor activity changes.

Additionally, the American Heart AssociationTrusted Source reports that over time, chronic depression can lead to heart disease because of higher levels of cortisol.

The impacts on both mental and physical health make treating ongoing depression of utmost importance. Many doctors prescribe medications from antidepressant classes such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants.

Treating depression with medications is not the only option, though. Increasing physical activity can be beneficial by increasing endorphins, a chemical the body produces that boosts the mood.

With both the pharmacological treatment of depression and the fact that physical activity boosts endorphins in mind, the researchers in the current study wonder whether running therapy could be as beneficial as using an antidepressant.

Depression symptoms lower by running

While most participants opted for running therapy, this group’s adherence to the treatment plan was lower overall. Of the participants, 82.2% of the people in the antidepressant group adhered to the medication protocol, while only 52.1% of people in the running therapy group completed the minimum required exercise sessions.

Regardless of which treatment plan people participated in, both groups saw improvements in mental health overall.

When comparing the participants’ depression symptoms at the beginning of the study to the end, 43.3% of the running therapy group saw their depression go into remission, and 44.8% of the antidepressant group experienced remission.

Participants in the antidepressant group saw improvement in their anxiety symptoms more quickly than people in the running group, but the end result at the end of the 16-week study was almost the same.

While both treatment plans were nearly identical in terms of depression improvement, the running therapy group saw improvements in physical health that the antidepressant group did not experience.

Participants in the running group experienced weight loss, improved lung function, reduced blood pressure, and reduced heart rate. The antidepressant group experienced weight gain and increased blood pressure.

“This study showed the importance of exercise in the depressed and anxious population and caution of antidepressant use in physically unhealthy patients,” write the authors.