Tuesday, June 12, 2012

uneathon 2012 Day 11 - More on exercise and depression

Juneathon 2012 Day 11 - More on exercise and depression
Walk - 1.6 miles,  Time - 30min, Weather - raining stair rods, terrible day, so out for as short a time as possible

A day spent watching the rain come down and listening to water pouring out of drains. Juneathon exercise was negligible - the barest minimum and all dressed up in waterproofs.

So to blogging and it is with a heavy heart I have to return to the subject of exercise and depression because the optimism in my summary of reaction to the research was misplaced. I had thought the follow-up to the original news reports had left us better informed and we had got beyond the exaggerated headlines. But I was wrong.
Sam Murphy is a highly respected journalist who writes on fitness and health but particularly specialises in running. She has written a number of books and writes regularly for the Guardian and in all her works she likes to quote research and researchers. As well as this she puts her knowledge into practice by running to a good standard and by coaching. In other words she is an authority  So I was rather sad to read this Tweet:
Sam Murphy @SamMurphyRuns 
Excellent response from Simon Hattenstone to unhelpful research saying exercise 'no good' for depression gu.com/p/385jc/tw via @guardian
The first, and in many ways the least important, reason is that she misunderstands the findings. It didn’t show exercise was 'no good' for depression, instead it said a particular intervention had no significant long term benefit - something very different. It meant she hadn’t followed-up to look in any detail at what the research was about instead she just reacted to the headlines. That might be slightly disappointing for journalist with her expertise but it is not an unforgivable sin; after all who amongst us, at sometime or other, has not offered an instant opinion based on partial information. The trick then is to acknowledge the mistake and find out more
However the second reason for my reaction to the Tweet makes me suspect this will not happen. The use of the phrase “unhelpful research” suggests an already closed mind that only wants to accept research that confirms pre-existing beliefs. I am sure if the findings had shown a positive effect for the exercise programme she would not have called it unhelpful. If so her problem is with the results not the research (especially as this particular piece of research, by examining the efficacy of a particular form of treatment, was designed to be very helpful indeed).  Having a problem with the results is not grown-up, it’s a bit like throwing a hissy fit if your team loses. It is sometimes you have to deal with. You have to look at the scope and limitations of the research and whether the conclusions are fully supported. Are there alternative explanations? What more needs to be known? 
Like Sam Murphy I am strongly convinced exercise is thoroughly beneficial but when I come across some evidence that seems to challenge this belief I don't want to say it is unhelpful. I want to say "Hmm I wonder how that relates to everything else we know?". To dogmatically assert exercise is good is not an adequate response

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