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Monday, April 21, 2008

Medicine for the brain: The role of exercise in fighting depression

On Monday mornings, Theo Baar's exhausting depression often tries to seduce him into just staying in bed. But then, he says, a staffer at Appleton House, a residence for people with psychotic disorders at McLean Hospital, comes into his room and says, insistently, "You want to go work out."

So Theo, a 22-year-old surfer and musician, drags himself to McLean's new gym and sweats through a half hour of weightlifting presses and curls. And then, he finds, he doesn't want to go back to bed. And more: his confidence is pumped up. Hs thinking tends to be less delusional, more reality-based.

"Working out helps me get my self back," he says.

His experiences reflect the recent findings of careful research: exercise may be as good for your brain as it is for your body. Evidence suggests that exercise helps reduce mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, addiction, stress and aggression.

"Exercise may be an effective treatment for patients with clinical depression, comparable to other established treatments such as antidepressant medications," says Dr. James Blumenthal, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University, who had led some of the seminal recent studies. Other studies suggest that exercise may be as effective as psychotherapy as alleviating depression.

"Exercise is medicine for the brain," says Dr. John Ratey, a Cambridge psychiatrist and author.

Advice for people struggling against depression: Find a fun form of exercise.

Read another exercise story.

Thanks to Carey Goldberg for the source story in today's Boston Globe.

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