At least 350 million people worldwide live with depression. It affects their ability to work and to form relationships. It destroys their quality of life. And it makes almost one million people commit suicide every year.
Fortunately, depression is treatable. Several medicines exist that combat depression. Unfortunately, these medicines often come with nasty side effects, among which rising blood pressure, loss of sexual drive, insomnia, agitation, and mania.
So wouldn’t it be far better to resort to a remedy that fights depression just as well, but doesn’t come with the nasty side effects? Physical exercise has been proven to be just as effective as antidepressants. It reduces depression and prevents its recurrence. And it comes with many other positive effects on body and brain.
Researchers in the US followed nearly fifty thousand women for ten years. The women who reported exercising most were less likely to be diagnosed as depressed. At the same time, the time the women spent watching television turned out to be of influence on their chance of getting depressed. The more hours per week in front of the screen, the higher the risk of depression. The researchers concluded you have to limit the time watching television and increase the time spent exercising to reduce your chance of depression.
Depression is a common mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration. It often comes with symptoms of anxiety as well. In most countries, eight to twelve percent of people will suffer from depression during their lives.
Many theories exist about what may cause depression to occur, but no unambiguous answer has come up yet. That also has to do with the fact that there are different forms of depression.
Those who pay a visit to the doctor because of depressive symptoms, generally will be treated with antidepressants. Different types of antidepressants exist. In many of the patients, these medications indeed do bring relief. It has long been unclear what these antidepressants bring about in the brain and what it is that makes them effective.
One of the brain parts involved in depression, is the hippocampus. During our whole life, new brain cells are being born within this hippocampus. But the production of new brain cells is hampered during a depression. It has been ascertained, neurogenesis – the birth of new neurones – almost completely stops in depressive people. This causes all kinds of problems in other parts within the brain.
Antidepressants seem to revive neurogenesis. Generally, if someone starts taking antidepressants, it takes a few weeks before they are producing an effect. And that would exactly be the time, newborn brain cells need to grow up.
Physical exercise also activates neurogenesis, which precisely may be the anti depressive effect of exercise. In addition and different from pills, during aerobic exercise endorphins are being released in the brain, which create an overall feeling of well-being. Besides, exercise regulates body rhythms, has a positive influence on self-esteem, and may yield social support.
Exercise also increases levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters help regulate mood and control anxiety. They make you feel relaxed and able to handle stress and aggression. That’s why regular exercise is such an effective medicine against depression.
But there is a catch. The biggest obstacle is that people in the thick of a depression can’t find the energy nor the motivation to start an exercise regime. Supervised exercise therapy may be a solution. Walking, cycling, and swimming in groups turn out to be very effective.
In general, mood and emotions are mental states related to specific chemicals and pathways in the brain. Strong links exist between mood and health. Improving mood lowers pain, curbs anxiety, and improves the quality of life. A good mood boosts immune system functioning and may influence longevity.
Motor systems are involved in mood and emotions as well. They influence each other. When you’re happy you smile. When you are smiling you feel happier. Thus the movement of facial muscles can improve your mood. In a more comprehensive way, this bidirectional feedback between movement and emotion happens during exercise and depression. The neurotransmitter dopamine is an obvious link as it is important in motor systems and in the brain’s pleasure pathways.
Exercise might be a key to feeling happy, not only for persons with mood disorders, but also for healthy people.
Walking in a robust pace is one of the easiest and best types of physical exercise. You don’t need practice and can do it everywhere. Walking has a positive influence on every organ in your body and strengthens the immune system.
But to get the most out of your walking routine, you have to pay attention to the way you walk:
- Walk with your head held high and look straight ahead. If you have to look down to avoid an obstacle, don’t lower your head, just your eyes.
- Straighten your back, keep your shoulders horizontally, and tighten your buttocks. Don’t push your upper body forward while walking.
- Don’t let your arms just bungle alongside your body. Hold your forearms up and let your arms move along in the rhythm of your walk.
- Take short steps. Make sure, when putting down your feet, your heel touches the ground first and then let your foot unroll towards the toes.
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Smileys © Steve Young– Fotolia.com
Brisk walking © Odua Images – Fotolia.com