Monday, February 11, 2008
Hate exercise? Read this.
By A. Chris Gajilan
Senior Medical Producer
I simply hate exercising. There is nothing I dread more than feeling like a trapped rodent at the gym. I have never experienced that mythical "runner's high." I am confounded by people who make time to exercise every day. In truth, I kind of think marathoners and triathletes fall on the freaky side of the spectrum.
Apparently, I'm not alone. In fact, one out of four Americans doesn't exercise at all according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest numbers. But a growing body of research is finding the benefits of exercise are even more wide reaching than the already-exhaustive list of collateral good: improved metabolism, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis, just to name a few.
"Exercise may be as beneficial as antidepressants for patients with moderately severe depression as well as mild depression," says James Blumenthal, a researcher and medical psychologist at Duke University. "Without a doubt, exercise is directly associated with improved quality of life and self-satisfaction."
Blumenthal's team recently published a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine comparing the effects of exercise with antidepressants in the treatment of major depressive disorder. The researchers took 202 depressed adults and separated them into four groups: group exercise; home-based exercise; antidepressants alone; or placebo pill. The antidepressant used was the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor sertraline (brand: Zoloft, Lustral).
The team's findings: Exercise may be just as useful as a pill in some, but not all cases. (It's also noteworthy that those who exercised in a group fared better than those who exercised at home alone.)
Blumenthal emphasizes, "We're not saying to stop taking antidepressants, but you can consider exercise as a viable option."
If you're asking why exercise has such a sweeping effect on depression and health overall, just look at the groundbreaking research in the field of neuroscience. Study after study details how exercise can actually change the structure and function of your brain.
Arthur Kramer, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found a 15 percent improvement in memory and attention in older people who walked just three days a week for six months.
In fact, several studies have shown that fitness is related to increases in the brain's gray matter and white matter. To be clearer, exercise can help you create new brain cells, thereby improving memory at any age. The dramatic effect can be attributed in part to neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to adjust and adapt. "When someone practices something over and over again, the structure of the brain actually changes," says Richard Keefe, a Duke University sport psychologist. "Synapses and neurons connect with one another and brain substances fortify the connection. Neurons that fire together, wire together."
Just in case you're wondering whether I manage to get past my hatred for exercise, I do. Sometimes. I've found that working out with a friend or family member - and adding a little friendly competition works for me. What works for you?
Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• Health care the French way
• Sad lessons from Heath Ledger's Death
• Keeping your balance
• Learning from universal health care proposals
• Candidate health care plans
• It can happen to you
• Dying for lack of insurance
• Eyeing the State of the Union
• Battling type-2 diabetes
• Counting calories on fast food menus