Depression and exercise: Can running or lifting weights help?
In short yes exercise can be used to help manage depression. However it is context specific and exercise intervention is best used along side other interventions.
Depression is one of the most common mental health illnesses with the world health organisation estimating that 350 million people worldwide suffer with depression. It is one the leading causes of disability. We are still very much in the process on learning on how to effectively cure and/or manage depression. Multiple interventions are often used including medication, talk therapy, exercise and other lifestyle changes.
One of benefits of exercise apart from the often cited release of happy hormones, is that it stimulates and increases neurogenesis (the creation of new nervous system cells in the brain). It has been shown in the literature that people who suffer with depression show shrinkage in the brain region known as the hippocampus compared to healthy individuals.
The hippocampus main role is turn information into long term memories. It is a central and huge part of the limbic system which is responsible for the experience and expression of emotion. This helps explain a lot of the symptoms associated with depression.
Cardiovascular exercise like running, biking, squash etc is best to achieve this. While weightlifting may potentially have this benefit currently the research is not as conclusive as it is with cardio exercise.
It should be noted that exercise is best used with talk therapy and it is mostly be shown to be beneficial for those with mild to moderate grades of depression. Medication may also be useful as well especially for those with moderate to serve depression and if you have had recurrent episodes.
If you think you may suffer with depression and have not yet had any medical help then I would highly recommend seeing your GP and or contact your local mental health charities.
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