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Exercise and Behavioral Therapy More Effective Than SSRIs

It’s common knowledge that exercise provides one of the most effective natural ways to treat depression. Slight less known but nearly as effective, behavioral therapy offers another natural method to treat similar mental health issues. But just how effective are these natural remedies when compared with approved medications, some of which have been in use for decades?

The simple answer is; very effective.

FDA Approved SSRI

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most frequently prescribed antidepressants. SSRIs are called selective because they affect serotonin rather than other chemicals in the brain. These drugs block the reuptake (removal) of serotonin, which keeps the level of serotonin balanced and helps regulate mood.

There are currently seven SSRI drugs on the market in the United States. These medications are generally safer than older antidepressants, with fewer side effects and drug interactions. In general, SSRIs have received approval from the FDA as safe and effective in the treatment of major depressive disorder. 

Many are also approved for anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Certain drugs in this category are also approved for use in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and bulimia.

FDA Approved SSRI
FDA Approved SSRI

Exercise Treats Mental Health Issues

Dr. Andrew Huberman explains that in 1950’s-1970’s, chemicals and compounds were discovered that could elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which lead to the development of most antidepressants in use today. However, although these chemicals do indeed increase serotonin and dopamine, they also increase levels of other chemicals and neuromodulators that can produce negative effects.

He notes that this is easily seen in antidepressant medications that affect libido, appetite or motivation. This is, in the simplest terms, because,

“serotonin is binding to receptors in areas of the brain that control those other things as well.”

A study published in the BJM Sports Medicine, that analyzed almost 100 meta-reviews of randomized controlled trials, showed that that short, high intensity interval training (HIIT) produced the most effective benefits, and in some cases was even more effective than standard psychotherapy or medications.

Although HIIT exercises produced the best results, the study found that any type, and any amount of exercise, still had beneficial effects. In addition, researches suggest sticking to short, quick routines, as the results clearly found benefits diminished with extended regimens and longer-duration programs.

Showing such definitive results, researchers concluded that physical activity should be the first port of call when it comes to treating to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Behavioral Therapy Combats Depression and Anxiety

With this advice in mind, you may find yourself asking if there are any natural treatments that can be performed on an ongoing basis whilst still boasting similar health benefits on a consistent basis?

Another simple answer: Yes, there is. Behavioral Therapy treatments can also be highly effective at combating mental health issues. It offers a natural way to train the brain with the goal of improving social and emotional skills, and specifically mental health.

Behavioral Therapy is a type of holistic therapy that is mainly geared toward helping those with mental health problems overcome symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain. It is typically prescribed to children over the age of 6, although it some cases it can be suitable for younger children, if/when they’re showing signs of fast development and are already conscious of their communication.

These types of exercises can be extremely useful for children living with certain disabilities, learning difficulties, and other mental health issues thanks to the proactive approach in which participants are able to learn by simulating real world situations, then analyzing how best to behave in said situations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates almost a billion people live with some type of mental disorder, most of which are anxiety and depression related.

According to Dr. Ben Singh, the lead author of the BJM Sports Medicine study, exercise should be the first-line treatment for mental issues, and this should be combined with lifestyle changes, psychotherapy and medication.

“A treatment plan may include a combination of lifestyle approaches, such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and socializing, alongside treatments such as psychotherapy and medication.”

Although the latter two, psychotherapy and medication, can provide great results, they can come at the expense of adverse side effect and at minimum, tiring, stressful therapy sessions. Two solutions that do not come with worrying side effects however, are exercise and behavioral therapy.

So if you’re looking for a more natural way to combat mental health problems, or you like to supplement medication and/or other treatments without taking more drugs, then adding exercise and behavioral therapy to your routine can certainly do no harm; what’s more likely is that you’ll see some great positive results.

The Science Against SSRI