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Y. Pritham Raj, M.D: Walks with someone you love who is dealing with depression may just be the best medicine.

During the pandemic, many people experienced depression or reported feeling "anxious" or "down." Depression increased nearly four-fold in adults during the pandemic. According to recent data from Mental Health America, the percentage of youth living with major depression in the U.S. continues to grow.

Signs of depression include sleeping problems, tiredness, anxiety or restlessness. Overeating and loss of appetite are common as well. Another sign could be increasing the use of alcohol or other substances. Oftentimes people experiencing depression isolate themselves from others. The most important indicator of depression is that you don't enjoy your favorite activities anymore.

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is a good time to pay attention to signs and symptoms of mental health issues. While one in five people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health. We are getting back to work and social activities, which are good for our mental health, but some people still struggle. As a specialist in depression, I'd like to focus on this aspect of mental health. Many depression treatment options are available, yet the easiest and best may be your two feet.

Exercise as medicine for depression

While you should always consult a medical professional to make sure there are no additional underlying medical conditions and explore talk therapy, there are ways you can start the process of feeling better. One way is to start a basic exercise routine.

Duke University concluded that exercise could be as beneficial to those with depression as a course of antidepressants. In their famous SMILE (Standard Medical Intervention & Long-term Exercise) study, it was found that "a brisk 30-minute walk or jog around the track three times a week may be just as effective in relieving the symptoms of major depression as the standard treatment of antidepressant medications."Y. Pritham Raj, M.D.

They concluded this by treating three groups of people with major depressive disorder differently. One group did aerobic exercise (45 min per day, three times a week); one group took antidepressant medicine, and the other group was given a combination of both. After four months, all three groups showed improvement. After 10 months though, the exercise group had a much lower relapse rate. The study concluded that exercise "is associated with significant therapeutic benefit, especially if continued over time."

Consider making regular exercise, even simple walks, a new habit. Or maybe offer to go on walks with someone you love who is dealing with depression. It may just be the best medicine.

Y. Pritham Raj, M.D., is chief medical officer at Active Recovery TMS, a Clackamas-based mental health clinic specializing in transcranial magnetic stimulation, a treatment for depression and OCD. He is an associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University in the departments of internal medicine and psychiatry and is a consulting associate at Duke University Medical Center.


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