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Exercise: The Best Treatment for Depression and CAD


Antidepressants and therapy are not the only options for treating depression anymore. A recent study by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) evaluated different treatment options for patients with coronary heart disease (CAD). They discovered that exercise is one of the most effective short-term treatments for depression compared to medications and psychotherapy. 

Depression is common in CAD patients, with previous research identifying a two-way relationship between the two conditions. Individuals diagnosed with heart disease are at increased risk of depression, and depression itself is a risk factor for adverse heart events. Both conditions have a significant impact on quality of life, so the best treatments are essential.

The RCSI systematic review of depression treatments among individuals with CAD finds valuable clinical information to help doctors develop better treatment plans for patients. It was the first hybrid review study incorporating both umbrella and systematic reviews. Researchers analyzed data from treatment trials with 7,240 participants. 

Programs using antidepressants, therapy, exercise, and combination approaches for depression were analyzed. In addition, the effectiveness of treatment was evaluated using adherence to programs and measures in any depressive symptom changes at both 8 weeks and 26 weeks. What they found was:

♦ Exercise and combination (drugs and therapy) treatment were the strongest treatments, but combination treatment results had a high bias risk.

♦ Antidepressants alone worked consistently but performed better when combined with exercise.

♦ Psychotherapy alone was only effective versus no treatment.

Woman doing yoga in the park

The evidence gathered from this study shows that exercise is a formidable and effective treatment option for depression in CAD patients. While antidepressants also work, there is a risk of side effects and tolerance to consider. Additionally, regular exercise also benefits heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. 

The value of exercise in reducing depressive symptoms among CAD patients highlights the importance of lifestyle in treating diseases. While additional research is needed, discovering that exercise can reduce depression and support heart health opens doors for new therapy programs. 

Individuals with heart disease should discuss the options with their doctors and find out if exercise will benefit their personal health needs. This research also allows doctors to recommend exercise treatments with confidence. When it comes to heart disease, stay active, stay healthy, and most importantly, stay happy.

Journal reference
Frank Doyle, Kenneth E. Freedland, Robert M. Carney, Peter de Jonge, Chris Dickens, Susanne S. Pedersen, Jan Sorensen, Martin Dempster. (2021). Hybrid Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of Interventions for Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease. Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 83 (5): 423.