There is no doubt that regular exercise forms part of a healthy lifestyle, and in the case of certain depressions, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), getting outdoors to exercise in natural light is very beneficial, however, Patient QI found conflicting reports at how efficient exercise was at alleviating the most common symptoms of depression.
A large scale review of studies published in 2012 concluded that regular exercise seems to improve mild to moderate depressive symptoms and compared favourably to antidepressant medications as a first line treatment, but in contrast, a large research trial published in the same year came to the conclusion that an exercise programme in addition to a normal care package did not reduce the need for antidepressants compared with care alone.
One large scale review which compared studies of 39 randomised controlled trials on 2326 participants in which exercise was compared to standard treatment, no treatment or a placebo treatment, pharmacological treatment, psychological treatment or other active treatment in adults, concluded that aerobic exercise was moderately more effective than a control intervention for reducing symptoms of depression. Flexibility exercise, however, was seen to have no better results than those of the control or placebo groups.
The use of information and communication technology has been increasingly linked to depression and sleep disorders in young adults. This link has led to calls for greater normal social interaction for those suffering from low self-esteem and other depressive symptoms.
A questionnaire study of 4162 people aged between 20 and 24 with a 1-year follow-up looked at general computer use, email/chat use, computer gaming, computer use without breaks and computer use at night causing sleep loss. Both high and medium computer use, compared to low computer use, were associated with sleep disturbance. In men, high email and chat use was associated with perceived stress while for women it was associated with mental health issues, as was computer usage without breaks for both genders. High and medium gaming use was most associated with symptoms of depression. There was particularly strong evidence against computer use at night and its roll in sleep disturbances. Researchers recommended further studies should be undertaken in this area.
Apart from cutting out computer use at night time, there are other lifestyle aspects that can disturb sleep and lead to a worsening of depression symptoms. A healthy sleep pattern has been shown to help manage the severity of many symptoms. Try to:
•Avoid caffeinated drinks after 4pm.
•Exercise daily, but not in the evenings.
•Eat your final meal of the day early.
•Avoid alcohol. Although you may think that one glass of wine helps you sleep, more than this can in fact disturb your sleep pattern.
In conflict to the notions of healthy sleep patterns aiding depressive symptoms, Patient QI found one study that had obtained good results by single night sleep deprivation. Researchers admitted they were uncertain how this method worked.
There have been several studies of the beneficial effects of a Mediterranean diet on depressive symptoms. In general a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables helps boost the body’s immune system and increase vital serotonin in the brain. Olive oil and EPA omega-3 in fatty fish, such as tuna, sardines and mackerel have also been shown to have a beneficial effect.
A 2013 study found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet cut the risk of stroke, depression, mild cognitive disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. In conclusion the researchers stated that, “Concerning depression, the protective effects of high adherence (to a Mediterranean Diet) seemed independent of age, whereas the favorable actions of moderate adherence seemed to fade away with more advanced age,” and that “adherence to a Mediterranean diet may contribute to the prevention of a series of brain diseases; this may be of special value given the aging of Western societies.”
An excellent booklet on diet and depression is available free at: