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Did you need a reminder that exercise helps both treat and prevent depression? Probably not. Or maybe you did.

exercise helps depression

Just start moving. . .

Our little mouse friends come through for us again in this study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm described in the New York Times: LINK. It’s been long suspected that exercise helps. Now there are indications of why it does, thanks to genetically-engineered mice.

Before you go to a doctor for a prescription for some magic pill (that isn’t so magic, really), try diet and exercise. Even 15-30 minutes of mild exercise (like walking) each day helps. Anecdotes and studies point to exercise as being the real treatment for depression. It’s the real treatment that antidepressants sometimes only enable. Once you’ve taken the pills for a while and are up out of bed, start moving.

The gist of the article: Exercise promotes the production of an enzyme called PGC-1alpha. This enables other substances in our bodies which help balance our mental processes:

“Rather it is what’s known as a promoter, sparking activity in genes, which in turn express proteins that then affect various physiological processes throughout the body.”

Is this the secret to eternal happiness? No. But it seems to indicate that exercise makes our bodies and minds more robust in the face of stress of all kinds.

Honestly, here’s what’s really sobering is this article: The stresses we are under everyday are enough to justify combat pay. The “mild stressors” that the mice experience are probably no more harrowing than most adults’ routines of morning commute, email-checking, disaster-porn-news-immersion, boss-confronting-or-avoiding, and looking-in-the-mirror-and-hating-what-we’ve-become. It’s sad that what most call “life” is a hideous jumble of barely-managed stress that would result in full-blown rodent depression when scaled down to their level.

As in, they just want to die:

“The scientists then exposed these animals to five weeks of mild stress. The mice responded with slight symptoms of worry. They lost weight. But they did not develop full-blown rodent depression. They continued to seek out sugar and fought to get out of the cold-water maze. Their high levels of PGC-1alpha1 appeared to render them depression-resistant.”

So until there’s a better solution, it’s a good idea to armor ourselves against depression the rodent way: through exercise. Other things that help: diet, sleep, meditation, conscious breathing, and avoiding situations that just intensify stress without a suitable payoff.

Be well!

Words and Images ©2014 Bill LaBrie
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