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First Published Friday, 17 April 2009


Ian Dose


Exercise is being under-used as a treatment for depression according to the Black Dog Institute, a leading Australian authority on mood disorders. It is calling on health professionals to place a greater emphasis on physical activity for patients with the disorder.


Described as a neglected strategy, the Institute is joining forces with Australian sports people to lead a drive to raise awareness in the community and amongst health professionals on the benefits of exercise to treat some forms of depression.


Olympian John Konrads, long distance swimmer Brendan Capell and golfer David Spindler helped launched the Exercise the Mood initiative.


They were joined by the Executive Director of the Black Dog Institute, Professor Gordon Parker; Research Psychologist, Joanna Crawford; Director of the University of NSW (UNSW) Lifestyle Clinic, Chris Tzar and author, Graeme Cowan.


Speaking at the launch, Professor Parker said exercise was particularly useful for reducing depression amongst people with mild/moderate depression who were previously inactive. “Two-thirds of Australians do not meet the minimum physical activity recommendations, and people experiencing depression have even lower levels of activity.


He said that last year the Black Dog Institute conducted an innovative survey of 500 people at a major Sydney fun run (Blackmore Sydney Running Festival). The aim of the study was to examine the impact of exercise on mood and the relationship between exercise and the symptoms of depression.


This study found that while most people (95 percent) reported that exercise improved their mood, even mild symptoms of depression were associated with reduced fitness, less confidence in exercising and added obstacles to exercise.


Over 90 percent of those people surveyed with current symptoms of depression agreed that exercise “gives me more energy” and “makes me feel better if I am feeling depressed.”


This Australian study, along with recent overseas research, has demonstrated the benefits of exercise for improving mood and energy levels in depression,” reported Professor Parker.


While regular moderate exercise can be an effective way to assist some forms of depression, it can be very difficult for people experiencing depression to find the motivation to get started.


Professor Parker launched the Institute’s program encouraging exercise as a strategy for assisting people with depression.


Health professionals, he said, had an important role to play in assisting depressed patients to become more active.


He said the Institute was developing free customized educational programs and workshops for health care professionals, including GPs, psychologists and allied health professionals to assist them in using exercise as a strategy for treatment of depression.


This new initiative will include evidence-based strategies for promoting physical activity in people experiencing depression and train health professionals in:


  • *Current evidence for the role of exercise in the treatment of depression
  • *Physical activity assessment and tailored education on exercise
  • *Development of individualized exercise plans for depressed patients
  • *Identifying and overcoming barriers to exercise
  • *Specific strategies found to increase exercise participation, including ‘motivational interviewing’ counseling, written exercise prescriptions from doctors, goal setting and self-monitoring
  • *Referral options and relevant Medicare rebates available (e.g. referrals to exercise physiologists under Enhanced Primary Care Plans)


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