Why Exercise Helps Reduce Depression

Man holding bike

Exercise is strongly associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that protects neurons from damage caused by stress. Exercise helps your body naturally produce more BDNF.  BDNF plays an important role in brain development and help neurons grow and develop. Author, Jon Rately wrote a book on the brain and is famous for explaining BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” Expression of BDNF is controlled by the BDNF gene, and people who are genetically predisposed to lower  BDNF expression have a tendency towards depression.  Exercise, however, is a potent stimulus that quickly increases BDNF expression in your brain, which is one reason why exercise is a powerful natural antidepressant.

A recent study, led by Jutta Mata of Stanford University, further proved that it is indeed the BDNF genotype produced when exercising which helps ease depressive symptoms. The study included 82 girls aged 10 to 16 who were genotyped for BDNF through their saliva.  They were then assessed for depression (all of the girls scored in a healthy range and were not depressed) and level of physical activity through questionnaires.  According to the results, higher physical activity was associated with lower depression scores in girls with an increased genetic risk for depression.  In contrast, exercise had an insignificant impact on lowering depression levels for girls with an already low risk of depression. According to the researchers this research further demonstrates that exercise has an even stronger benefits for depressed people. Furthermore, the researchers concluded the study proved “that physical activity is particularly beneficial for girls at higher genetic risk for depression.” The researchers think future research is needed, replicating this test, but with more girls and a more diverse population.

Whether you are an adolescent girl or not, it means you may be able to sweat your blues away. Don’t feel as if you need a sweaty, intense workout to help reduce anxiety and depression. Just thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise can make a difference (and help brain cells survive longer). On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to mood disturbance, and put you at risk for development of other health problems such as diabetes which can cause depression.

Finally, physical activity isn’t a replacement for other treatments of depression, but it could be a good way to complement your regimen. It’s important to talk with your doctor about the type of exercise that works best for you.

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