The exercise effect on fighting depression

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The exercise effect on fighting depression

A person is depressed.  They go to their doctor to tell them how they are feeling and the first thing the doctor recommends is an antidepressant medication. Pills can be one solution for treating a condition such as depression and there are those who will benefit and need antidepressants to help them cope, especially anyone with severe depression.  But pills are not the only solution.  Research has shown that exercise is also an effective treatment.  And for some, it works as well as antidepressants.

One in 10 adults in the United States struggle with depression and typically antidepressants are the go-to method of treatment.  However, one thing a doctor should strongly consider prescribing to a patient suffering from depression is exercise. Even though exercise is more likely associated with benefitting the heart, muscles, lungs, and bones, new research is now focusing on how it improves the brain.  It appears breaking a sweat and moving around can result in a reduced likelihood of depression. 

Study on exercise and depression

It has been known for some time that exercise can decrease the symptoms of depression.  However, in a 2016 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that exercise increased the level of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, both of which are depleted in the brains of people with depression and anxiety.

For the research, 38 healthy volunteers rode stationary bikes at a vigorous rate of about 85 percent of their maximum heart rate for 20 minutes in three sessions.  During this time, the researchers evaluated each rider by measuring GABA and glutamate levels in the brain immediately before and after the workouts.

What was shown was that post-exercise scans had significant neurotransmitter increases in parts of the brain that regulate emotions and cognitive functions.  Participants who exercised three or four times in the week leading up to the study had longer lasting effects.  Also scanned were brains of six people who didn’t exercise in which no change was seen in their neurotransmitter levels.

It was noted that what appears to activate the pathways replenishing the neurotransmitters allowing the brain to communicate with the body, was participating in aerobic exercise such as fast walking, bicycling, swimming, or jogging.

What else does exercise do for depression?

Even though exercise may be the last thing a person with depression feels like doing, once a person gets moving it can make a big difference.

Research has shown that not only the physical benefits of exercise but also the psychological benefits exercise provides can reduce anxiety and improve mood. The connection between anxiety, depression and exercise are not entirely understood, but working out and other forms of physical activity can definitely ease symptoms of anxiety or depression helping one to feel better. 

Neuroscientists who study people with depression have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain – the region that regulates mood – is smaller.  Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.

Here is how regular exercise may help ease depression:

·      Releasing feel good brain chemicals such as neurotransmitters, endorphins, and endocannabinoids that help ease depression.

·      Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.

·      Increasing body temperature which may have a calming effect.

·      Gain confidence and self-esteem by helping a person feel better about their appearance.

·      Helps a person increase the chance of getting out meeting new people and socializing. 

·      Exercise is a form of a healthy coping strategy.

How much exercise is enough?

It is recommended to exercise at least 30 minutes three to five days a week to help notice significant improvement of symptoms of depression.  However smaller amounts of exercise - even as little as 10 to 15 minutes of exercise at a time - can make a difference.  The important thing to remember is to stick with an exercise and physical activity program that a person enjoys for the long term. 

Here are some ideas to get more active:

·      Meet with a friend for a walk - This can be a great way to combine casual social interaction with moderate physical activity. 

·      Do some gardening or cleaning – Gardening doesn’t mean a person has to have to a large area of rows and rows of vegetables.  Gardening can be as simple as going outside to pull weeds around your home, planting flowers or having a small garden of just a few plants.  Live in an apartment?  Spruce it up by cleaning a cluttered cupboard, refrigerator or bedroom.  It all counts as activity, especially is there is any scrubbing or washing involved.

·      Take a pet for a walk – Having a furry friend, dogs in particular, have boundless energy and need to be walked.  Combine their energy by taking a stroll in a park.  No dog?  Offer to walk a friend or neighbor’s dog.  A person will reap the physical benefits of dog-walking without having to worry about the responsibility of looking after a dog when the walk is over.