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Drug Detox for Antidepressants May Be Avoided By Exercising Instead of Taking Drugs
With antidepressant prescriptions at an all-time high in this country, one wonders if physicians were listening nearly a decade ago when researchers at Duke University showed that exercise is just as effective in alleviating depression as the most popular antidepressant medication. If the doctors know, they apparently aren’t telling their patients – because Internet message boards and forums are filled with pleas for help from folks all trying to get off antidepressants. Someone should tell them there’s little they can do to avoid antidepressant withdrawal unless they enter a medical drug detox center.
The Duke team’s study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, was published in The Archives of Internal Medicine way back in October, 1999. The study involved 156 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) who were divided into three groups: exercise, medication, or a combination of medication and exercise. To everyone’s surprise, the non-drug exercise group had exactly the same results as those of the other groups – without the side-effects of the antidepressants and without risking chemical dependency and the need for drug detox.
The effectiveness of exercise for depression is well known. Even the Mayo Clinic devotes an entire web page to how exercise helps depression and anxiety, detailing tips and strategies to help depressed people make an end-run around the lethargy that can keep someone in their chair instead of on their feet. Even a little exercise, they say, can make a tremendous improvement.
Of course some physicians reportedly do recommend exercise for patients presenting with symptoms of depression. But far too many doctors – the vast majority – continue to prescribe antidepressants instead of helping motivate their patients to enter inexpensive, safe exercise programs – a solution that will never lead to drug detox. One only suspects it is easier to pop a pill than get up out of bed and start exercising, especially when you’re feeling depressed. Many doctors may be worried that patients won’t stick to the program, so it’s easier to prescribe another pointless antidepressant and hope patients won’t become dependent.
In Great Britain, where antidepressant use requiring drug detox is as big a problem as it is here, there’s been something of a mini-campaign to get doctors on the exercise-for-depression band wagon. Several years ago, the country’s Mental Health Foundation surveyed physicians and found only 5% prescribing exercise for depression. An updated survey this year shows 22% of doctors are now prescribing exercise for their depressed patients.
This is good news in the UK, a country with government funded national health care. Treatment of depression with exercise instead of drugs leads to none of the common and often very expensive complications of drug therapy, such as emergency handling of side effects, potentially life-threatening drug interactions, and having to go through a medical drug detox program to get off the drugs.
Exercise is a potent weapon and should be accorded more importance in the U.S, physician’s arsenal in the battle against depression. Doctors should take a more proactive role in motivating their depression patients to get on and stick to a prescribed exercise regime, one tailored exclusively for their level of physical health. This would help reduce the trouble and expense surrounding antidepressants that we read about on a daily basis – everything from health care costs and teenage antidepressant abuse to antidepressant dependency and the need for a drug detox program.
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