Too Depressed to Work Out? The Gym May Be the Best Medicine.

Walking to the Gym
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Physical activity of any kind has been shown to help treat the symptoms of depression. The only challenge? Many people suffering from depression find that depression symptoms keep them from sticking to a fitness routine, creating a catch-22 that keeps them mired in negative emotion and away from the squat rack.

That could change if mental health providers start prescribing exercise the same way they’d prescribe any other medicine, according to a new study from Michigan State University.

Researchers asked 295 patients receiving treatment at a mental health clinic about the effects exercise has on their emotions. The results were unequivocal: More than 80% of the patients felt that exercise often helped reduce anxiety and improved their mood.

Nearly half of the patients said they’d be interested in having a one-time discussion with their therapist about exercise, and many said they’d want ongoing advice about it. Overall, 85% said they’d like to exercise more. Despite that, more than half of them cited their moods as a reason they don’t get more exercise.

“Physical activity has been shown to be effective in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” lead author Carol Janney said, according to the MSU press release. “Current physical activity guidelines advise at least 30 minutes, five days a week to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed weren’t meeting these recommendations.”

Mental health providers may not have the expertise to prescribe actual exercise programs, but partnering with trainers or exercise facilities could be an effective approach for mental health providers to support their patients’ desire to work out more, said senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry Marcia Valenstein. More than half of the patients surveyed in the study expressed interest in getting help from a trainer and said that physical activity was something that their doctors rarely discussed.

“This is a missed opportunity,” Valenstein said. “If we can make it easier for both therapists and their patients to have easier access to physical activity services, then we are likely to help more patients reduce their depression and anxiety.”

If you suffer from depression and have days where the last thing you want to do is work out, get motivated—to talk to your doctor about it. Remember: Those are the days when you could probably use a good sweat session the most.

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