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Depression Health Center

Exercise for Depression: How It Helps

Being physically active should be part of depression treatment, experts say.
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Up and Running continued...

Baxter’s program helped her regain it. Anita says her workouts with Baxter were gentle and subtle, but, crucially, they were what got her moving again. She found herself wanting to work out on her own, and she began running again; she also started lifting weights. She has lost 30 pounds in the past year.

"My work with Jane helped me get accustomed to going out and being physically active again," Anita says.

Baxter says that is a common response to her program. In fact, many of her patients join a gym and even hire a second personal trainer.

Though she also does traditional talk therapy, about half of her patients opt for the program she calls PsychFit.

“When I was in graduate school, learning about different types of therapy, exercise was never mentioned,” Baxter says of the early inspiration for her practice. “That blew my mind.”

As the idea for PsychFit began to form, about eight years ago, Baxter began sharing her plans with other therapists, as well as doctors and personal trainers.

“They loved it,” she recalls, especially the personal trainers.

“They would tell me about women who would start crying on the treadmill,” she says. “They didn’t know what to do with them.”

Many of her patients come to her after trying more traditional approaches.

“Therapists often will just sit and talk and tell you to exercise,” says Baxter. “But if you are depressed, you are not going to do it.”

A typical session with Baxter includes 7-8 minutes of warming up on the treadmill, followed by balance ball exercises to work the abs and the upper and lower core muscles, and then some weight work before cooling down on the treadmill. All the while, patients talk to her about their problems.

It’s an empowering process, she says. “They feel strong while talking about their weaknesses.”

Your Brain on Exercise

According to Ratey, depression shuts down the brain’s ability to adapt to new situations by limiting the ability of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine) to foster communication throughout the brain.

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