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Can Antidepressant Medication Affect Your Running?

Here's what to ask your doctor about the pros and cons of antidepressants—and what to know about seeking treatment as a runner.

Ashley Lauretta

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If you are taking—or thinking of taking—antidepressants, what should you know about how it can affect your performance? Talking to your doctor is the first step.

“It’s important to note that, as with all other classes of psychiatric medications, antidepressants have only been studied in athletes in small studies of short duration, so there’s not a lot of research at the moment that can clearly indicate what, if any, impact they have on performance,” explains Dr. Simon Rego, Chief Psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “Therefore, the discussion with their doctor should be about the relative costs and benefits of starting them; for example, if they improve mood/energy/motivation, it may help with performance. If it is a professional athlete, it’s important to make sure they are not on a monitoring list of banned substances.”

Of course, it is important to note that antidepressant medications aren’t the only solution. When talking with your doctor, you should also discuss skills that can be learned to lessen feelings of anxiety and depression. Nancy Rappaport, part-time associate professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School notes that this involves becoming familiar and aware of the thoughts that can make you feel worse or bring on feelings of anxiety or depression.

“Antidepressants can help you function better if you are sick enough to warrant a trial,” she adds. “Someone who may benefit from a trial of medication may not be sleeping, lose weight or gain weight and have low energy. If these symptoms improve, they may have better running performance.”

The benefits of the medication—such as improved sleep—don’t happen to everyone, however, so discussing any negative side effects that can occur is important. If you experience suicidal thoughts, a dramatic change in personality with increased irritability or pressured speech, you should notify your doctor immediately.

Before you start taking anxiety medication (benzos), understanding the pros and cons are key. Knowing all of your treatment options can help you treat your depression or anxiety from multiple angles. Of course, exercise has been found to be a great alternative method to lessen the effects.

“Getting outside at least half an hour and exercise is very helpful,” shares Rappaport. “When patients are anxious or depressed they can have low energy and then drink coffee. Than they can have a tough time sleeping. Exercise can make people feel better and sleep better.”

Of course your decision to take antidepressants should not be based on performance alone. Though runners do have some other factors to consider when it comes to the side effects, as well as pros and cons of treatment, taking care of your mental health is not something to be taken lightly.

“Don’t forget the big picture—while performance is important, treating anxiety and depression is just as important,” stresses Rego. “If medications are not possible, there are a number of non-medication, psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that the research has shown to be just as effective as medications for anxiety and depression.”

For more information, you can visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for free resources.

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