Does HIIT help with depression?
March 7, 2010 9:35 PM   Subscribe

Does HIIT help with depression, or do I need the usual 30 minutes of cardio? TL;DR background info inside.

For the last week or so, I've been a bit depressed. That is, I'm feeling down for no reason; I'm having trouble engaging in activities with people around me; I'm constantly putting off work, often by sleeping more than I should; I'm dwelling on unfortunate situations, feeling sad about ex-girlfriends; and so on.

I'm no stranger to depression, having been diagnosed at age 14 (seven years ago). And Zoloft generally works great, but every once in a while weeks like this happen, usually in response to stress or diet changes or something.

Since it hasn't gone away on its own, I want to be a bit more proactive in beating it back, and so exercise is what comes to mind. I've been doing weight training 3/week for a while, but cardio is of course the canonical anti-depression cure.

Now, I prefer HIIT to the usual running/elliptical cardio, mainly because of the time savings, and because it feels more like I've accomplished something. (Every once in a while I manage to work up the motivation to add 3/week HIIT to my workout schedule, but this rarely lasts more than a week or two.) But all of the stuff I've read, on the internet and in books, mentions ≥30 minutes of steady cardio as the depression cure, and makes no mention of HIIT. Has anyone found any studies, or have any personal experience, to let me know one way or the other on the relative effectiveness of HIIT versus traditional cardio for depression?
posted by Jacen Solo to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried keeping a log of how you feel after your own exercise? I've often seen that recommended for tracking the effect of food + activity on your mood. This creates some useful data for starting a dialogue with a doctor or therapist (I assume you have one or both, since you're on Zoloft).

Anecdotally, I feel pretty great about 10 minutes into any decent cardio workout, and will feel elevated for at least the next few hours. No particular guarantees for a full day of non-anxiety, but that doesn't change if I exercise for 40 minutes instead of 10.
posted by tantivy at 10:03 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you considered the possibility of being over-trained? It is not hard to do that with high intensity training and of course it may have a significant negative effect on your body and mood (see: Perhaps try to lower the intensity for a week or two and see how you are going to feel. You may also want to reconsider if your diet is adequate for the amount/intensity of training you do.

As for weight lifting vs. aerobics vs. HIIT etc. for depression, studies seem to show that it doesn't really matter, for example see this paper.
posted by jarekr at 12:08 AM on March 8, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify, I'm currently only doing weight training, and now I want to add some cardio to combat this recent depression flareup. The question is, HIIT or traditional cardio? And jarekr's paper looks like a great resource; thank you!
posted by Jacen Solo at 12:19 AM on March 8, 2010

Best answer: I have experimented with HIIT for fat loss and improved aerobic capacity. It works. But, it is very draining, and you will want to puke if you are doing it right. It does not give you a nice rush of endorphins. It gives you the urge to give up and die.

If you think you will get a buzz off mastering your pain, go for it. I certainly got a sense of grim pride on completion. But I think you might be better off with a nice half hour walk in a sunny, natural setting.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:40 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think HIIT is the way to go for depression or anxiety because it is so draining. But it could be just the jolt your system needs.

I prefer a nice long run at a medium pace. It's like a magic eraser for crud in your brain.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:27 AM on March 8, 2010

Best answer: Why not simply try two weeks of each and see how you feel? It seems logical to me that different people will react in different ways -- one might be better than the other for you, or there may be no difference at all. You'll never know unless you just try.
posted by modernnomad at 6:10 AM on March 8, 2010

Make sure you're not having anemia (get the full panel) or thyroid problems before running yourself into the ground with HIIT at the gym in the belief it will make things better. Rigorous exercise can make iron deficiency anemia worse.
posted by availablelight at 6:19 AM on March 8, 2010

full panel = full iron panel, with saturation level, etc.
posted by availablelight at 6:19 AM on March 8, 2010

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