Exercise: An Alternative to Antidepressants

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outdoor-exercise_with loved onesScience shows we can boost our level of happiness naturally, without taking antidepressants (today’s happy pill).  Yet, in my experience, as an ex-pharmaceutical representative that once promoted antidepressants and cholesterol lowering agents, doctors are quick to write a prescription and slow to recommend exercise or a healthy diet to lift a patient’s mood.

Can exercise make us happier?  Movement keeps our physiological being happy; it stimulates our circulation, helps with constipation, keeps our muscles stretching and flexing, our joint lubricated, it’s all-good.  What about the mind, is it affected by physiological movement of the body?

Absolutely with a resounding YES!

Here’s my personal experience with depression and lack of exercise. Twice, in the last 6 month the doctor’s believe I’ve experienced symptoms of depression.   First, when I had hand and elbow pain from a bulging C5-6 disc with nerve impingement.   The second time, more recently after a hysterectomy and complete reconstruction, which left me virtually bed ridden for 4 weeks.

On both occasions, the doctors thought I had an abnormal pain response and asked if was on antidepressants.  To both, I staunchly replied, “No! I’m not depressed, I don’t need antidepressants.”

Why did the doctors think I was depressed?  I wasn’t, or so I thought but they went this route of questioning and I started to question if maybe I was.    So, in my very Allison way, I went looking for the answer.

In the search I came across Sonja  Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness.  Sonja discusses the medical findings of a clinical trial where they studied the impact of exercise vs  Zoloft, a antidepressant, on depression.  I thought it so interesting I’ve included an excerpt of it here.  I’ve italicized some words to draw your attention to them.

“An impressive study of physical activity was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999. The researchers recruited men and women fifty years old and over, all of them suffering from clinical depression, and divided them randomly into three groups. The first group was assigned to four months of aerobic exercise, the second group to four months of antidepressant medication (Zoloft), and the third group to both. The assigned exercise involved three supervised forty-five-minute sessions per week of cycling or walking/jogging at moderate to high intensity. Remarkably, by the end of the four-month intervention period, all three groups had experienced their depressions lift and reported fewer dysfunctional attitudes and increased happiness and self-esteem. Aerobic exercise was just as effective at treating depression as was Zoloft, or as a combination of exercise and Zoloft. Yet exercise is a lot less expensive, usually with no side effects apart from soreness. Perhaps even more remarkably, six months later, participants who had “remitted” (recovered) from their depressions were less likely to relapse if they had been in the exercise group (six months ago!) than if they had been in the medication group.”

I was “SO” pleased to read this, it clarified for me the bulging disk and, more dramatically, the hysterectomy, had resulted in major lifestyle changes such as:

  • Staying home *social isolation*,
  • A reduced level of physical activity *little to no feel good endorphins *,
  • A change in dietary habits – being physically mobile and having use of your hands is important for cooking *poorer eating habits*

The limited mobility impacted my ability to take proper care of myself  (physically, mentally and nutritionally), and resulted in a depressed like state.  Reading that quote was like a breath of fresh air and inspired me to get moving for my health and happiness.  It turned out, I didn’t need a happiness pill, I needed.

Exercise helped me feel better and it got me out of the house. Might it do the same for you?

My whole life shifted when I started exercising regularly, now my doctors don’t ask if I’m on antidepressants they say, “you look good” and I can confidently say am good, thank god for exercise!!!

If you need a little support to kick start a healthier lifestyle or just need a little accountability to keep you on track shoot me a message here, I’d absolutely love to support you.

NOTE: If you’re feeling sad or crying a lot, reach out and talk to a health care provider.   If you are on anti-depressants add exercise into your weekly routine and work closely with your doctor as you might need to slowly titrate down your medication.   Always consult your doctor before starting an exercise program to make sure you’re exercise of choice is appropriate for your medical condition.

To your health, happiness and energetic self.



Here is the link for the Alberta help line.


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4 thoughts on “Exercise: An Alternative to Antidepressants

    • Totally agree!!The effects of food on mood and behaviour is a whole new area of study, one I think is very exciting and worthwhile. Antidepressants can make people feel fuzzy or detached, but food can heal. I look forward to the day the doc prescribes a healthy diet and exercise instead of a pill. Thanks for your comment.

  1. I agree, totally, that exercise works to heal body, mind and spirit. Walking out in the bright sunlight, away from everything and everyone, allows us to get in touch with our own feelings, to think things thru, while, at the same time, bringing up our heartbeat and those ‘feel good’ endorphines. Great article!

    • Yes, you’ve instilled in us as young children the benefits of walking. I thank you for that as it’s served me well moving through out my life. There is nothing like it to clear the fog from the head and to see things clearer. Thanks for the comment.

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