Exercise can help when chronic illness gets you down, study finds

April 4, 2012

Suffering from a chronic illness can drain a person's quality of life, but add in depression, and the results are debilitating. A new study from University of Georgia researchers shows that exercise training can reduce depression symptoms in patients with a chronic illness.

In a study published in a recent edition of the , researchers analyzed the results of 90 involving more than 10,500 sedentary patients with a chronic illness. The study did not focus on patients diagnosed with depression.

"The that often accompany a chronic illness can lead to a reduced quality of life among patients through restrictions in social and recreational activities, lower adherence to doctors' recommended that reduce future health risks, and increased disability and ," said Matthew Herring, who led the study during his dissertation research as a doctoral student in the UGA College of Education's department of kinesiology. "Also, because some evidence has questioned how effective antidepressant medications are among patients with a chronic illness, there has continued to be interest in alternative therapies including exercise."

Herring is now a research associate in the department of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The team also included Patrick O'Connor and Rodney Dishman, co-directors of the UGA exercise psychology laboratory, and Timothy Puetz, who earned his doctorate at UGA.

The patients typically participated in strength or training for 17 weeks, with three sessions per week, 42 minutes per session. The reduction in symptoms was significantly larger in patients who performed moderate to as recommended.

The study builds on the researchers' findings published in Archives of Internal Medicine in February 2010 that regular exercise reduces by 20 percent.

"Our findings are important because millions of Americans suffer from a chronic medical condition, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, obesity, pain and fatigue that can present a barrier to being physically active," said O'Connor. "Our results show that when individuals with medical conditions such as these adopt and maintain a program of regular exercise, they report feeling happier and less depressed. The results provide health care professionals with additional evidence for recommending physical activity to their patients."

Among the nine types of patients studied, those with lung and cardiorespiratory disease as well as obesity showed the largest magnitude of improvement in after .

This finding is particularly timely due to the recent launch of UGA's Obesity Initiative, which addresses adult and childhood obesity and its related diseases. Advances in research and efforts in outreach aim to improve the health of Georgia's citizens and decrease the cost of health care in the state.

"The results also dispel the skeptical view that people feel better when they exercise only because they expect to," said Dishman. "The studies we reviewed were planned to study chronic diseases, not mental health. Patients wouldn't have been expecting a drop in depression. Also, the reduction in depression depended in part on a favorable change in the primary outcome of the study, such as physical functioning or weight loss. So, lower depression was an unexpected, added value of exercise. Our work during the last 15 years using animal models of depression confirms that exercise alters brain biology in ways that can explain these anti-depressant effects of exercise."

The findings warrant further study, particularly on patients with a chronic illness who have been diagnosed with depression.

Explore further: Study finds exercise reduces anxiety symptoms in women

More information: For a PDF of the study, see archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/172/2/101

Related Stories

Study finds exercise reduces anxiety symptoms in women

January 19, 2012
Approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population suffers from excessive, uncontrollable worry that reduces their health and quality of life. The condition, known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, is difficult to overcome and ...

Exercise can improve the health and wellbeing of cancer patients

January 31, 2012
Exercise can improve the health of cancer patients who have completed their main cancer-related treatment finds a study published in the British Medical Journal.

New research shows mental illness common, linked to heart disease

September 12, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Mental illnesses -- led by anxiety disorders and depression -- now affect one-quarter of the US population according to new research. In Europe a similar proportion -- about 27 percent -- suffers from ...

Recommended for you

Americans misinformed about smoking

August 22, 2017
After voluminous research studies, numerous lawsuits and millions of deaths linked to cigarettes, it might seem likely that Americans now properly understand the risks of smoking.

Women who sexually abuse children are just as harmful to their victims as male abusers

August 21, 2017
"That she might seduce a helpless child into sexplay is unthinkable, and even if she did so, what harm can be done without a penis?"

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.