Teens can suffer from
depression like everyone else, but a small new study hints that exercise might
help ease the condition.
The British study included
three boys and 10 girls with depression who were enrolled in trainer-led
workouts three times a week for 12 weeks. The teens were also encouraged to
exercise 30 minutes a day on the other days.
According to the
researchers, the workouts were linked to significant boosts in mood, with
depression severity cut by 63%. Eighty-three percent of the teens who completed
the exercise program were no longer as depressed by the end of the study, which
was slated for presentation at the Society for Neuroscience annual
meeting in San Diego.
"Exercise has so many
advantages as a therapy: It is non-drug, has few side effects and has countless
other health benefits. But it has never been tested in youth as treatment for
depression," study author Robin Callister, of the University of Newcastle,
said in a Society for Neuroscience news release.
exercise can lift mood in young people is a huge step forward in treatment of
this delicate population," she added. "We are now conducting a larger
trial to further evaluate the effects of exercise in depression and are hopeful
that it could be used as a treatment in addition to other treatments for
depression without potential problems."
Higher endorphin levels
"It is no surprise
that exercise reduces depression, regardless of age," said Mark Solms,
co-chair of the Neuropsychoanalysis Association in New York City. "It is
well established that vigorous and protracted exercise raises endorphin levels,
and that endorphins [brain chemicals linked to lowered stress] reduce the
mental pain of depression no less than they reduce physical pain."
Victor Fornari is director
of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System
in New Hyde Park, New York. He noted that depression is a "serious medical
condition associated with suffering" and also a major contributor to
suicides among young people.
"Although the evidence
suggests that the most effective treatment to date for adolescents with
depression is a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy in conjunction
with antidepressant medication, exercise may also be valuable in the recovery
of depression," Fornari said. "In addition to being associated with a
healthy lifestyle, regular exercise may have a positive benefit in terms of
psychological relief, as it does with some depressed adults."
Still, the study is very
small and experts noted that findings presented at medical meetings are
typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Fornari agreed that
"further studies are needed in order to determine the role of exercise in
the recovery from depression during adolescence."
And Solms pointed out
another potential hurdle when using exercise as treatment for depression:
"The only problem is that it is very difficult to motivate depressed
people to exercise," he said.
Harvard Medical School has
more about exercise and depression.