Stay Active, Keep Happy

Healthnotes Newswire (June 22, 2006)—Staying physically active may be the key to warding off depression. People who exercise regularly are generally healthier and suffer from depression less often than sedentary people do. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine now shows that depression can set in once regular exercise stops.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, almost one in ten adults suffers from depression, with women affected roughly twice as often as men. Depression has an impact not only on the people with the disorder, but also on those who care about them. Characterized by persistent sad mood, depression can cause a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. It may also lead to weight problems and interfere with sleep, memory, and concentration.

While heredity, stress, abnormalities in brain chemistry, hormonal fluctuations, and low self-esteem may contribute to depression, physical activity seems to protect against it.

People who exercise regularly have less inflammation in their bodies, lowering their risk of diabetes and heart disease. Less inflammation and better cardiovascular fitness may also help explain the beneficial effects that exercise has on mood. Studies have shown that people who exercise as little as 30 minutes per day tend not to suffer from depression.

Knowing how exercise can improve mood, a research team from Bethesda, Maryland, aimed to find out what would happen when regular exercisers discontinued their normal workouts. Forty people who engaged in aerobic exercise for thirty minutes or longer, three or more times per week, took part in the study. One-half of the people were instructed to stop their usual exercise for two weeks, while the others continued exercising as before.

Following two weeks of exercise withdrawal, the people were significantly more tired and depresssed than the still-exercising group. It is interesting to note that bodily complaints associated with depression, such as fatigue, started before emotional symptoms like sadness. As fitness levels decreased in response to discontinuing exercise, the people became less energetic. On the other hand, the people who continued exercising had a decrease in depression.

While the trial did not look into the type, amount, or intensity of exercise that might be needed to prevent depression, Ali Berlin, spokesperson for the study, said, “Our study suggests that if regular exercisers want to avoid depressive symptoms, they should continue to engage in regular activity.”

(Psychosom Med 2006;68:224–30)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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