Understanding the Relationship between Depression and Exercise

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, more than 350 million people of all ages are affected by depression. Suicide results in an estimated 1 million deaths every year. Depression is a serious mental illness in every nation.

Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. It can be long lasting or recurrent, substantially impairing a person’s ability to function at work or school or cope with life in general.

In a new study in mice, researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden show that exercise induces changes that protect an individual from depression and helps reverse depression symptoms.

Mia Lindskog, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience and study co-author stated:

In neurobiological terms, we actually still don’t know what depression is. Our study represents another piece in the puzzle, since we provide an explanation for the protective biochemical changes induced by physical exercise that prevent the brain from being damaged during stress.”

Exercise induced changes to the brain seem to have a detoxification effect that can protect the brain from stress and related mental illness, particularly depression. In the simplest terms, exercising reduces the risk of developing depression, and leads to better mental and physical health. This is good news.

Anyone can increase exercise, slowly but steadily. Walking daily is a great start for many people and can be done any time or place. Soup cans, bags of rice or plastic bottles of water make great weights for indoor exercising. Inexpensive and creative ideas for ways to exercise are unlimited.

Although there are known effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those with depression receive such treatments. A lack of resources and trained health care providers, and the social stigma associated with mental disorders, prevent many from seeking help. The evidence suggests that exercise may provide a possible solution for helping people who suffer with depression when no other treatment is available. It is at least a place to start.



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