- Physical activity can help your brain adapt and change, reducing the risk of depressive symptoms, according to a new study.
- It doesn’t take much exercise either—activities such as walking home from work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are beneficial.
- Of course, exercise, such as running, alone isn’t a cure for depression or even sufficient for treatment, since it often takes a multi-layered approach, often including therapy and/or medication, to reduce symptoms.
Plenty of research has linked exercise with better brain health, and now there’s more evidence that what’s good for your body is great for your mind. Physical activity can help your brain adapt and change, reducing the risk of depressive symptoms, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.
Researchers looked at 41 people who were undergoing treatment for depression and assigned half of them to a three-week exercise program, with three 60-minute sessions per week that combined coordination, endurance, and strength. The main focus, though, was on fun rather than competition.
This approach promoted playfulness and social cooperation, while reducing potential anxiety about performance, lead researcher Karin Rosenkranz, M.D., associate professor at the University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, told Runner’s World.
“Lack of motivation is one of the major issues in depression, and just thinking of sport and exercise is often off-putting,” she told Runner’s World. “Our study shows that intensive training is not necessary to make a difference, just increasing daily physical activity is sufficient to get started.”
All participants had brain scans before and after the study period to detect changes such as neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new connections. This type of adaptability is considered beneficial because it helps the brain with a range of functions, including healing from injury, memory retention, and emotional regulation.
Altered and reduced neuroplasticity tends to be common in those with depression, said Rosenkranz, so finding ways to boost it can be helpful. And that’s exactly what happened.
Those in the exercise group showed significant improvements in neuroplasticity after three weeks, even though the workouts weren’t very intense, Rosenkranz said.
Of course, exercise alone isn’t a cure for depression or even sufficient for treatment, since it often takes a multi-layered approach, often including therapy and/or medication, to reduce symptoms. But physical activity could be an important component, and as Rosenkranz noted, it doesn’t take much.
“Walking home from work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, meeting up with friends for a hike—it can all add up to help your brain,” she said.
That’s true for everyone, not just those with depressive symptoms, she adds. With greater neuroplasticity from exercise, the brain’s connections get stronger and more resilient—and your body does, too.
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