Exercise and Depression: Activity Can Beat The Blues – But Why?

exercise and depression | Just Believe Recovery PA

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Exercise and Depression: Activity Can Beat The Blues – But Why?

Persons in and outside of research have long found there appears to be an inverse relationship between exercise and depression. But three new studies have found new evidence that this may be true.

In three separate meta-analyses, outcomes from previous research was collected on more than one million women and men. When considered broadly, the results show a significant correction between regular exercise and the brain’s resilience to depression and anxiety.

But if this is true, researchers also want to know why. One commonly held belief is that exercise produces endorphins, which can make people happy. That works in the short-term, but does this really affect us even when we aren’t exercising?

A collaboration of global public health researchers decided to take a look at recent studies, and engage in a rigorous review of the statistical evidence. For the analyses, they collected the newest and best-designed studies that focused on exercise and depression.

Can Exercise Prevent Depression?

exercise and depression | Just Believe Recovery PALast month, these researchers published a study in Preventative Medicine which sought to determine if regular exercise could actually prevent the development of depression.

Rather than using studies that relied on self-reports, which tend to be fallible, they used only studies that objectively measured a participant’s aerobic fitness. This is a solid indicator of how much activity is actually being engaged.

In addition, mental health was assessed using standard testing at the beginning and end of the studies. Follow-up time was required to be at least one year or longer.

Researchers discovered multiple, large-scale, studies from the recent past that met these requirements. They compiled data on more than 1,140,000 adult women and men.

Among this huge body of participants, links between overall fitness and mental health were found to be considerable. Participants were divided into three groups, based on aerobic fitness level. It was found that women and men with the lowest level of fitness were also 75% more likely to have received a depression diagnosis than those with the highest level of fitness.

In addition, men and women in the middle were nearly 25% more likely to have a depression diagnosis than the fittest.

Can Exercise Treat Depression?

In another study involving some of the same scientists, researchers examined 25 studies that focused on whether exercise might be an effective treatment for mental illness. Moreover, they sought to determine if exercise could improve the outcomes of those already diagnosed with depression. Each study used had to include a non-active control group.

Results revealed that exercise, particularly that which is moderately strenuous and supervised (to ensure the entire program was completed) had a major and significant effect on depression. That is, people’s mental health appeared to improve markedly when they were physically active. That analysis was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in June, 2016.

Why Are Exercise And Depression Inversely Correlated?

exercise and depression | Just Believe Recovery PAFinally, the last review, published February in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, offered some reasons why exercise appears to effective against depression.

That is, the mechanisms that are affecting our bodies and brains during and after exercise that seem to affect our moods and make us less susceptible to depression.

Researchers looked at 20 past studies in which blood samples had been obtained from people with major depression during and post-exercise. The samples indicated that exercise markedly reduced inflammation, which is a known contributor to depression. It also increased levels of hormones and biochemicals that are believed strongly associated with brain health.

Researchers also cautioned, however, that many of the studies they reviewed were small and short-term, so they do not necessarily indicate how exercise might affect mental wellness long-term. Yet, the three reviews certainly do make a strong case for exercise as a boon for mental health in general.

What Are Some Of These Hormones and Chemicals?

exercise and depression | Just Believe Recovery PAResearch has shown that exercise exercise affects the release of serotonin, dopamine, testosterone, and human growth hormone. Numerous studies show favorable effects.

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) is a chemical neurotransmitter found in the human brain, bowels, and blood platelets. Serotonin, among other functions, is thought to contribute significantly to feelings of well-being and happiness.

Many researchers believe that is responsible for balancing the mood, and that a deficit of serotonin can result in depression.

Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations, and encourages one to continue seeking out the pleasurable activity. Thus, an increase in dopamine during exercise will actually encourage further exercise.

Testosterone is a hormone and anabolic steroid that is primarily associated with male sexual characteristics. However, exercise can increase levels of testosterone, and low testosterone levels have been associated with depression. Even in women, low testosterone can cause fatigue, low mood, mood swings, and decreased sex drive.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) can be boosted or hindered by certain exercises. According to recent studies, HGH can benefit depression, as well as increase energy levels, raise self-esteem, and improve mental clarity.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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