Exercise: Best Kept Secret for Treating Depression

Dr. James S. Gordon talks about the importance of exercise when treating depression. Physical movement can improve mood, relieve anxiety, and alleviate the symptoms of depression.

James Gordon, MD, is a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety and psychological trauma. Dr. Gordon is the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC and a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School.

Dr. Gordon is the author of a new book called Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. Educated at Harvard University, Dr. Gordon has devoted over 35 years to the exploration and practice of mind-body medicine.

To hear the entire expert interview with Dr. Gordon, join the Mercola Inner Circle.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Every year, 230 million prescriptions for antidepressants are filled, making them one of the most-prescribed drugs in the United States. Despite all of these prescription drugs being taken, more than one in 20 Americans are depressed, according to statistics that came out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month.

Of them, 80 percent said they have some level of functional impairment, and 27 percent said it is extremely difficult to do everyday tasks like work, getting things done at home or getting along with others because of the condition.

Why are so many people feeling so low, even though antidepressants -- the supposed “cure” for depression -- are so widely available? Because antidepressants are barely effective, and they increase your risk of many serious side effects.

The Antidepressant Illusion

These drugs, which are typically recommended as the first-line treatment for moderate or severe depression, have been found to provide no meaningful benefit.

One investigator from the UK even said she is “not convinced there is such a thing as a drug that will specifically relieve depression and that so-called antidepressants are merely drugs that do other things, such as sedating or stimulating people.”

The reason that antidepressants have received so much fanfare to begin with is that their makers did an excellent job of publicizing the things they wanted you to know, while keeping very quiet about the rest.

As Dr. Gordon said:

“The problem is that the drug companies did not publish the unfavorable studies about antidepressants, especially the newest class, the SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) like Prozac or Paxil.

And so what you have is drug companies only publishing positive studies, doctors only reading about positive studies, patients believing the drug companies and, of course, their doctors -- and it’s kind of like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Everybody’s been kind of wrapped up in an illusion when in fact over the last couple of years people have been taking a new look at all the unpublished studies.

And when you put together the unpublished studies and the published studies, what you find out is that antidepressant drugs are little, if any better, than placebos (that is, sugar pills) in relieving symptoms of depression.”

For a drug that only works as well as a sugar pill, antidepressants have steep risks. Among them:

Now, the purpose of the interview with Dr. Gordon, and of my newsletter and Web site as a whole, is to get the word out that there are ways to overcome depression that have nothing to do with padding the pockets of the drug companies, and putting yourself at risk of serious side effects while you’re at it.

There are safe, natural ways to overcome depression, and they are all well within your reach.

Exercise is One of the BEST Treatments for Depression

Sometimes the solution to what ails you is so obvious that you can’t see it until it hits you right on the head. Well, consider yourself hit. If you have depression, or even if you just feel down from time to time, exercise is a MUST (it’s a must for everyone, really).

“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is, the physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed. And that’s even better for older people, very interesting, even more important for older people,” Dr. Gordon says.

“And physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain. It changes, increases their levels of “feel good” hormones, the endorphins. And also -- and these are amazing studies -- it can increase the number of cells in your brain, in the region of the brain, called the hippocampus,” he continues.

“These studies have been first done on animals, and it’s very important because sometimes in depression, there are fewer of those cells in the hippocampus, but you can actually change your brain with exercise. So it’s got to be part of everybody’s treatment, everybody’s plan.”

If you’re not sure how to use exercise like a drug, including the correct variety, intensity, and frequency, this past article will help you get started.

And please don’t delay. Many Americans have an exercise deficiency, but this problem is easily remedied if you look at exercise as a crucial part of getting healthier and happier.

The Other Key Factors to Overcoming Depression

Depression is a very serious condition, but there’s an important point I want to make: depression is not a “disease.” Instead, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance.

This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as an “illness,” you think you need to take a drug to fix it. In reality, all you need to do is return the balance to your life, and one of the key ways to doing this is addressing stress.

“Most of the research that I’ve been reading recently indicates that stress is the most important common factor in producing depression of all kinds and in turn affecting neurotransmitters,” Dr. Gordon says.

So, along with exercise, you need to have a method of stress relief that works for you. You may like meditation, yoga or going for a hike in nature, and all of these are great to use, but I also suggest using a system that can help you address emotional issues that you may not even realize are there. For this, my favorite is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). However, if you have depression or serious stress, I believe it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an EFT practitioner to guide you.

So, we have stress relief and exercise, but there is still another factor: your diet. Foods have an immense impact on your mood and ability to be happy, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition plan will best support your mental health.

At the same time, you need to supplement with a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat, like krill oil, and also make sure you’re getting enough sunlight exposure to have healthy vitamin D levels (also crucial for treating depression).

These three primary things -- exercise, addressing emotional stress, and eating right -- will make you feel at the top of your game. Whether you want to overcome depression, feel happier, or just want to stay healthy, these are the lifestyle changes that will get you there.