More and more research is piling up demonstrating the potential for exercise to help alleviate depression and possibly other mood disorders.
But if you’ve been on the Internet or watched late night infomercials, you know there are myriad ways to exercise with fervent believers of each type.
So if you want to incorporate some exercise into your daily routine to help deal with depression and mood, what are you to do?
Fortunately, some scientists have looked into this so hopefully we can get past all the bias and financial motivations of those promoting different exercise programs and get to the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter which benefits you.
Researchers out of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario researched the effects different types of exercise had on 61 university students over the course of six weeks during their academic term.
That is a pretty good time and group on which to run a study like this. School is not just fun and games. It can be quite stressful, especially the more seriously you take your studies, so this is an interesting test group.
The researchers assigned the 61 students to one of three groups: a group that performed high intensity interval training (HIIT), a group that performed moderate continuous training (MCT), and a group that did not exercise at all.
For those unaware of the differences, HIIT is a popular form of training that includes short bursts of intense physical activity followed by short breaks. This cycle is repeated over typically a shorter period of time.
Tabata is a good example of HIIT. The Tabata exercise protocol calls for eight rounds of 20 second exercise bursts followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is an intense, four-minute long workout. Done properly, it really gets the heart rate up.
Many people enjoy these types of workouts as they provide a high intensity-style workout in a short period of time that fits into busy schedules.
Moderate continuous training is a little more traditional and includes things we all recognize like jogging, power walking, bicycling, etc. Just as the title suggests, this is a moderate, less intense form of exercise that is performed continuously.
Now back to the research.
The results, published in the March 2018 edition of the journal Biological Psychology, are very intriguing.
The first thing the researchers found was that the group that did not exercise at all experienced increased depression. So we have yet another study that does not show any benefit of inactivity.
There is little surprise there, however the fact that depression increased rather than stayed stable could be cause for concern.
The MCT group, on the flip side, showed not only decreased depression but also a decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-α levels. (Inflammation is thought by many to contribute to depression.)
While the MCT group may have had the most encouraging results, the most interesting results belong to the HIIT group.
While this group experienced decreased depressive symptoms, they also experienced an increase in perceived stress along with an increase in cytokine TNF-α levels.
The researchers believe these increases are due to the higher level of stress associated with the high intensity training.
So what does this mean?
It seems, based on this limited research, that the clear winner in terms of reducing depression is moderate continuous training. However, HIIT also showed benefits, so we cannot say that it has no place if you are looking to exercise to help combat depression.
When looking at forms of exercise, it is very important to know what your goals are. For instance, these results show moderate exercise to be the most beneficial for alleviating depression. However, if you are also looking at protecting your heart health, research has shown a combination of resistance training (can often be done in the HIIT style) and cardiovascular training (which can be done in the MCT style) produces the best results when it comes to heart health (see more here).
Resistance training has also shown to be anti-aging, so it is certainly not without its benefits (see more here).
So while moderate training may have performed the best in this study for combating depression, a little resistance training sprinkled in may have its place, helping fight depression as well as benefiting other important aspects of health, like heart health and anti-aging.
Like many things, balance and an open mind may be the key.
With all that said, be sure to talk to your licensed health care practitioner before starting any exercise program or to diagnose or treat any illness.
There are a lot of different exercise programs out there and there are plenty to suit everyone’s tastes and needs, so be sure to consult a professional to be safe and find one that you enjoy.
If you want to make sure you do not stick with your exercise program, the first thing you want to do is pick one that makes you unhappy. So make sure you are enjoying yourself so you’ll stick with it and create the best you possible!
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