woman running up stairs

Illustration: Masa

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For years, experts have taken a one-size-fits-all approach to treating depression, leaving a significant number of patients unsatisfied and still unwell. But researchers now recognize that there are likely many variations of the illness, and each might respond best to a particular treatment. This shift has led to alternatives to the standard protocol—some of which can be tried today, no prescription required.

Heartening Moves
Runner's high is not a myth. In fact, a meta-analysis involving more than a million subjects has shown that aerobic exercise can help prevent depression. "Adopting and maintaining exercise habits at any age can mean a significantly decreased risk of depression in the future," says lead author Felipe Schuch, PhD.

One possible explanation is that exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that helps nerve cells grow and survive, thereby producing antidepressant effects. But since working out activates most of the body's systems, it's likely fighting depression on multiple fronts, says Brandon Alderman, PhD, director of the Exercise Psychophysiology Lab at Rutgers University. His team found that aerobic exercise can reduce rumination; they also discovered that mildly to moderately depressed people experienced a nearly 40 percent decrease in symptoms when they ran for 30 minutes (and meditated for 30 minutes) twice weekly for eight weeks.