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Simple postural exercises may reduce depressive symptoms



– Postural exercises that take only a few minutes but are performed several times a day produced large reductions in symptoms of depression and increased the rate of remission at 12 weeks, according to results of a randomized study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

“These were very marked symptom improvements seen at the end of 12 weeks in those randomized to the exercises when compared to the controls who received antidepressants alone,” reported Martin Furman, MD, a researcher in psychiatry at the University of Maimónides, Buenos Aires.

Dr. Martin Furman, a researcher in psychiatry at the University of Maimónides, Buenos Aires. Ted Bosworth/MDedge News

Dr. Martin Furman

The study comprised 42 patients who met criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD) by DSM-5 criteria. All were taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) for at least 12 weeks and improved but had not achieved remission on this therapy alone.

The patients in this study all continued on their baseline SSRI dose but were randomized to start postural exercises or to remain on an SSRI alone. The two sets of exercises, which took only a couple of minutes, were repeated four to six times per day with at least 2 hours of separation.

The equilibrium exercises involved raised arms with flexing of first one lower limb then the other. Each flex was maintained for 15 seconds. In a separate exercise, patients were instructed to hold a pencil between the teeth and smile for 1 minute, a technique that activates facial skin afferents, according to Dr. Furman.

“In previous studies, posture and balance have been linked to a reduction in anxiety and moderate depression,” Dr. Furman explained. “Feedback of the muscular and facial skin afferents has been associated with modulation of neural activity within the central circuit of emotions.”

Much of this work was pioneered by Tomás Ortiz Alonso, MD, PhD, director of the department of psychiatry at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, according to Dr. Furman. While working to complete his PhD, Dr. Furman is collaborating with Dr. Ortiz Alonso.

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