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Exercise As Alternative Treatment for Depression among Teens

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To reduce depression symptoms among teens, a new study recommended exercise as an alternative treatment to therapy and medication. The research was published in the December issue of Evidence-based Practice in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Psychology Today noted that even if the problems associated with depression are severe, it can be treated. However, one challenge of seeking treatment for teens is that the period is usually characterized by mood irritability and isolation. Experts remind parents to take concerns seriously if their adolescents show extreme mood changes or express being depressed. At a minimum, they should take their teens’ concern seriously and seek mental health evaluation or consultation.


Needs Self-Motivation

The research, published by scientists in Australia, held a four-week exercise intervention designed to meet the needs of 10 teens diagnosed with major depression. The study found some support for the use of exercise, but it noted a downside to exercise intervention which is that it needs self-motivation. The authors noted that depressed teens may need more support to maintain motivation for exercise engagement over time.

To improve the use of exercise motivations, the teens who participated in the study recommended having scheduled sessions with a provider to increase their motivation. They also suggested exercising in pairs and boosting the use of exercises such as boxing.

The adolescents also cited some benefits of exercises but highlighted some limitations of the study. They pointed to the small number of participants and depression scores that were lower but still higher than the clinical level of symptoms which include sadness, feeling hopeless, the loss of interest in hobbies, decreased energies, and death thoughts.



APA Recommendations

Apart from the American Psychological Association, many mental health professionals and therapists recommend exercise as part of the treatment for depression. APA recommended for the teen patient to first meet with their doctors or medical provider to review his/her health before beginning the exercise treatment.

After the doctor gives the green light to exercise, begin with small goals. APA recommends a gradual start to an exercise program and to set reasonable goals but to avoid sudden high-intensity exercise. It also suggested doing different types of exercises such as walking, running, swimming, yoga, and weightlifting which could help some depressed adolescents feel emotionally and physically strengthened.



If the depression has resulted in decreased connection with others, the exercise could be used as a chance to increase contact with other people. By working out with a friend who has similar goals, many depressed teens find that they can stick to their exercise plan.

Finally, APA recommended paying attention even to minor changes in the mood to evaluate what form of exercise or exercise intensity is most helpful.


Nature’s Therapeutic Effect

Another study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, suggested providing to depressed teens access to greenery. The recommendation was particularly made for middle schoolers who are less likely to feel depressed, Mind Body Green reported.

The research had over 9,000 teens aged between 12 and 18 over the course of the years. The participants were monitored for depressive symptoms and granted access to green space. The researchers found that teens who live in areas with a lot of vegetation were 11 percent less likely to suffer from severe depression compared to those who were not exposed to greenery.

But access to bodies of water was apparently not a factor in the mental health of the participants. One of the theories why greenery is medicinal for the youth is that nature helps restore some mental clarity after engaging in long, arduous tasks such as studying for standardized exams. Not just teens, but humans of all ages are hardwired to seek connection with the outdoors, according to the biophilia hypothesis cited by the researchers.



Kirsten Beyer, a health geographer at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, observed that even images of nature can have a positive benefit on depressed adolescents. She stressed that as a way to protect mental health, greening indoor environments should not be discounted. Beyer added that even in the urbanest environments, vacant lots, yards, and street trees offer chances to add green space to the landscape.


Wake Therapy

But for Francesco Benedetti, the head of psychiatry and clinical psychobiology unit at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy, the wake therapy could be a treatment for depression. He uses wake therapy in combination with lithium and bright light exposure to treat depression because medication has failed.

The chronotherapies apparently work by kick-starting a sluggish biological clock, Smithsonian Magazine reported. It sheds new light on the underlying pathology of depression and, generally, on the function of sleep. Benedetti explained that sleep deprivation has opposite effects on healthy people and depressed patients. For depressed people, it can prompt an immediate improvement in mood and cognitive balance. However, he admitted there is a catch because if the depressed patient goes to sleep and catches up on the missed hours of sleep, there is a 95 percent chance of a relapse.

[메디컬리포트=​Vittorio Hernandez 기자]

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