Two recent studies have shown that exercise can play a crucial role in both managing diabetes and fighting hard-to-treat depression.
In the first study, which was published in the journal Diabetologia in May, researchers amalgamated evidence from over 100 previous studies to look at how lifestyle changes helped people with Type 2 diabetes control their blood glucose levels. With data from about 10,500 adults available, the researchers were able to examine whether changes in diet, exercise, and medicine use were successful in improving participants’ diabetes control. Interestingly, they found that exercise was the most effective lifestyle tool for lowering HbA1c levels.
The researchers found that previous studies that had focused on increasing exercise levels led to reductions in HbA1c level twice as great as studies that tried to get participants to change their eating habits, exercise habits, and medicine adherence at the same time. They also found that improvements in blood glucose levels from exercise were seen regardless of participants’ HbA1c levels and body-mass index at the beginning of the study—in other words, exercise benefited everyone, regardless of their weight or previous blood glucose control.
The second study, published online on July 9 in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, tested the effect of exercise on women with hard-to-treat depression. The study looked at 30 women ages 40–60 who had been diagnosed with major depression and used antidepressant drugs for at least two months but failed to see an improvement in their symptoms. Half the women in the study were assigned to begin supervised group workouts in addition to continuing to take the medicine, while the other half simply continued to take the medicine. The women in the exercise group met twice a week for one hour of exercise using cardio-fitness machines.
After eight months, the women in the exercise group showed significant improvement in their depression symptoms, while the women who only took antidepressants showed only marginal improvement. The researchers concluded that exercise is an effective add-on treatment for depression that works over the long term.
As for how exercise works to fight depression, scientists theorize that it may affect nervous system chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, that antidepressants are also formulated to target. In this particular study, the social aspect of regular group exercise sessions may also have been a factor in the participants’ improvement.
Depression and diabetes are often linked, and improvement in controlling one condition often helps people gain control of the other. According to these two new studies, exercise can be a valuable tool to achieving this end.