Running from the Blues
Can exercise impact your mental health? With depression being the leading cause of disability worldwide, scientists and researchers believe the use of exercise may help mitigate the issue.
You have probably experienced improved mental function and clarity after exercise, but why? Interestingly, when you exercise, so does your brain. In fact, an intense workout session is among the most difficult— and therefore, the most beneficial— activity the brain can experience.
The Exercise Connection
Throughout a workout, the brain is consuming a large amount of carbohydrates and glucose for energy. What is the brain doing with all that energy? While research has yet to reveal exactly what the brain uses it all for, one thing that experts know is that part of the energy goes to creating new neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers sent out by nerve cells. These messengers pass along signals to other cells to communicate a message. Neurotransmitters are vital for regulating things like mood, breathing, digestion, and more. You may have heard of some of the more well-known neurotransmitters such as dopamine or endorphins.
In addition, a study entitled “Exercise Effects of Depression: Possible Neural Mechanisms” set out to examine the effects of exercise on the structure of the brain. Depressed individuals often have mass reductions in specific parts of the brain such as in the prefrontal cortex or amygdala. Based on the results of the study, researchers concluded that exercise can in fact increase or restore these regions of the brain by stimulating the growth of white matter. White matter is fatty, fibrous tissue used to store new information, promote movement, and facilitate healthy neural function.
So, what does all this have to do with mental health, you ask? Many depressive disorders have been linked to neurotransmitter deficiency and reduced brain matter. Knowing that exercise has the power to stimulate neurotransmitter creation and white matter growth, scientists believe it can play a powerful role in treating these disorders. Exercise, incorporated with more traditional treatments, may provide significant results. If you suffer from depression and you want to start incorporating exercise into your treatment plan, consider talking to your doctor about where to start.
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