Depression, which is the main cause of mental and physical disabilities, affects millions of people around the world. For example, roughly 16 million in the US and 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Not only does depression affect an individual but it also influences people’s work, their capability for socialising and sustaining healthy relationships.

In a large survey conducted by researches, which was published in ‘JAMA Psychiatry’, it was discovered that there is a way to fight depression. The method, which can be utilised by those in middle-age, does not cost a lot of money and also doesn’t involve major treatments or medication. Dr Madhukar Trivedi who is the director of depression research at the South-western Medical Centre in Dallas (University of Texas), was involved in a study. In this study, he found that physical fitness can decrease the risk of depression, as well as heart disease. By helping to prevent these health issues many can live a longer and healthier life. Depression can also be associated with other diseases, especially for those who are older.

Important note: Dr Benjamin Willis, who worked at the Cooper Institute as the director of Epidemiology, was the lead in this study. Dr Trivedi was his second.

“Depression doesn’t exist in a vacuum, especially for people who are older” Dr Madhukar Trivedi

Studies have shown that people suffering from depression tend to die sooner, due to the fact that they are more vulnerable to chronic conditions such as heart disease. Dr Trivedi mentions that exercise and keeping your body fit, could well add years to your life.   

Dr Trivedi and his associates did a study on how exercise can have an effect on a number of health issues. This information was collected from some 18,000 people who were enrolled in the ‘Cooper Centre Longitudinal Study’. All of these people were around the age of 50 years old. This data included information that measured their fitness levels, which was taken from their daily fitness habits. The information also included their depression diagnoses that were recorded by their Medicare claims. Relevant to the study, their issues related to their heart problems as well as their cause of death were all recorded.    

These studies span a period of almost 40 years. The results revealed that people with higher fitness levels, which indicated that they exercised more often, had a 16% lower chance of suffering from depression. This was compared to those who had much lower fitness levels. People with higher fitness levels also showed that they had a 61% lower chance of dying from heart disease. Those that were diagnosed with depression showed a 56% lower chance of dying of other heart issues compared to those who had lower fitness levels.

“Exercise not only reduces your risk of heart disease but also improves your depression, so I really see it as a bonafide treatment related to depression.” Dr Madhukar Trivedi

There have been many studies conducted in the past that connect depression and heart disease, proving that exercise can lower the risk of heart disease and help with depression. However, in his studies, Dr Trivedi clearly concluded that exercise and fitness can lower the risk of heart disease as well as depression.

There is a possibility that people with higher fitness levels can show a lower degree of inflammation. Inflammation has been found to be a factor in cases of heart disease as well as depression.  However, further studies will still have to be conducted, which can prove that raising your fitness level will have a marked effect on lowering your depression and heart disease symptoms. Dr Willies and Dr Trivedi’s study was not intended to include changes to fitness routines and plans.       

Dr Trivedi did, however, mention that based on the results, he would encourage doctors, when dealing with patients suffering from depression, to not only prescribe antidepressants but also to include an exercise program. In other previous studies conducted by Dr Trivedi, proved that exercise and fitness can be just as effective as antidepressants and physiotherapy when treating the symptoms of depression. He is hoping that in the future more doctors and physicians will make use of exercise as a form of treatment, together with medication, when considering patients with depression symptoms.