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Battling the Blues With Aerobic Exercise

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Battling the blues
"In the study, even those who settled for 20 minutes of stretching three times a week experienced a 30% drop in symptoms [of depression]."

It just kind of sets in one day. You don't really want to get out of bed. Then, food doesn't taste as good as it usually does—or maybe you feel like eating more than usual. Nothing makes you happy. You don't really want to talk to anyone, even your friends.

Every year, 19 million American adults deal with depression, and it's not surprising. Given how much more complex and frustrating the world gets every day, coping can be tough.

Of course, if it gets really bad, you're going to want to talk to your doctor. Medication and psychiatric treatment may be the best options, but for little cases of the blues, a sweaty workout and a big salad may be better answers than Xanax and a shrink's couch. In fact, even in some serious cases of clinical depression, healthy diet and regular exercise play a major role in recovery.

In a study appearing in the January 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center learned that 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, three to five times a week, halved mild to moderate depression symptoms. The results rivaled other commonly used therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy and use of the antidepressant Tofranil.

In the study, even those who settled for 20 minutes of stretching three times a week experienced a 30% drop in symptoms.

Another study from Duke University Medical Center in 2000 showed that participants who had recovered from depression had a much less likely chance of relapse if they maintained an exercise regimen.

There are all kinds of reasons why exercise can help ward off the blues. It's a great way to channel stress and break life's daily tensions. It's great for self-esteem, and when you exercise, you tire yourself out, so you sleep better. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you're doing it.

A healthy diet can also play a major role. It will help you maintain a healthy weight, which can help with self-esteem. Furthermore, it's important to break the vicious cycle of "comfort foods"—as vicious a crutch as drinking, drugs, or any other.

But keep in mind that it's also important to get enough to eat. A January 2000 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that large calorie deficits can cause women with a history of serious depression to relapse. When you low-cal it, you don't get enough of a chemical called tryptophan, which is important in the creation of serotonin. Normally, the body fixes this with a hormone adjustment, but this doesn't always happen in formally depressed women. The answer is to eat healthy and keep that calorie deficit small. Slow and steady wins the race. If signs of depression reemerge, call your doctor.

Living right may fight the blues, but don't wait until your next bout of sadness to buy some whole grains and throw on those running shoes. Prevention is often the best cure. You may be one of those 19 million Americans who suffer from depression, but that doesn't mean you have to take it lying down.

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