Exercise helps against depression

Exercise helps against depression

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Exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases in depressed people
At least one in ten people in western industrialized countries will develop a depressive disorder in the course of their life. Depression has long been a common disease. They are usually treated with medication (antidepressants) and psychotherapy. But sports and physical activities can also help and even reduce medication.

Depression has long been a common disease
Depression has long been a common disease. Around four to five million people in Germany suffer from it. The disease is accompanied by numerous psychological and physical complaints, such as depression, listlessness, sexual inactivity or sleep disorders. In the long term, depression can promote type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks. "Depression is therefore just as high a health risk as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure," said Professor Dr. Kai Kahl from the Clinic for Psychiatry, Social Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) in a message. But this risk can be reduced.

Sports activities can help
Depression is traditionally treated with medication (antidepressants) and psychotherapy. But physical activity can also relieve depression. In research, scientists came to the conclusion that sport works in a similar way to antidepressants. A training program against depression was presented at the MHH years ago. An interdisciplinary study by the university has now come to the conclusion that depressed patients reduce their too large heart fat tissue through a six-week structured sports therapy - and with it the likelihood of having a heart attack, for example.

High risk of cardiovascular diseases
Cardiovascular disease is reported to be the second leading cause of death from depression. MHH researchers have been asking for years why people are particularly at risk of depression. “Depression leads to a number of endocrine and immunological changes in the body, which in the long term lead to an increase in cardiac fat. Large cardiac fat tissue is a known risk factor for the development of coronary arteriosclerosis, ie the calcification of the coronary arteries, ”explained Professor Kahl. The deposits constrict the vessels and can lead to infarctions. In addition, people with depression often suffer from listlessness and tend to move little, which also puts a strain on the cardiovascular system.

Sports therapy for depressed patients
Together with colleagues from the Institute of Sports Medicine, the Clinic for Cardiology and Angiology and the Institute for Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, the psychiatrist researched the topic. "We wanted to take a closer look at the heart health of depressed patients and find out whether certain sporting measures could improve it," said Professor Kahl. The study involved 42 patients who were treated for depression in the clinic for psychiatry, social psychiatry and psychotherapy.

The participants were between 40 and 45 years old and were treated with individual psychotherapy and differentiated psychopharmacotherapy. Half of the subjects also took part in structured sports therapy, which the Institute of Sports Medicine developed especially for patients with depression. This program consisted of six weeks of strength and endurance equipment training with three 45-minute sessions per week. The intensity was slowly increased according to the cardiovascular values ​​and the self-assessment of the patients.

Training reduces heart fat
At the start of the study, the scientists found that depressed people had an average of 1.5 times more heart fat than healthy people. "We were very surprised by the size of the difference," said Professor Kahl. But after six weeks of sports therapy, the participants had lost around ten percent of their heart fat. In addition, the special training ensured a reduction in the likewise dangerous belly fat, which is above average in depressed patients, an improvement in HDL cholesterol values ​​and an improved maximum oxygen saturation of the blood. The physical activity also has a positive effect on the psyche.

Exercise as the third pillar in the treatment of depression
"The study shows that structured, intensive training is a good way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks," said the psychiatrist. "A long-term lifestyle change towards targeted exercise can significantly improve the health situation of depressed patients." He is pleased that all patients from the sports group ended the program and continued voluntarily for about a third afterwards. “It used to be said that depressed patients can hardly be motivated to do sports. But it can work if they are looked after intensively and the program is optimally tailored to them. In the treatment of depressed patients, sports therapy should always be added as a third pillar to psychotherapeutic and drug therapy, ”said Professor Kahl. The psychiatrist hopes that this part will soon be included in the medical guidelines for the treatment of depression. (ad)

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