How Exercise Eases Depression

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Exercise in the comfort of your home while watching TV

Laurence T. Gayao MD

For a long time people have observed that regular exercise helps them feel good and helped burn fat even before scientific studies were done that showed how exercise eases depression. We know that depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life and in extreme cases leads to drug abuse, alcoholism and  suicide.

I am sure you may have heard it said that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Lately several studies have shown that regular exercise helps individuals with depression and anxiety. The researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden went on further and did a study in 2014 that found the molecular explanation to how exercise helps in depression and fat burning.


Chemical Changes Resulting from Exercise Eases Depression

The Swedish research team showed that when muscles works during exercise they produce an enzyme that breaks down the substance kynurenine. The substance Kynurenine is present in high levels in the blood of people with anxiety, depression and other mental disorders.

This enzyme acts on kynurenine to convert it to kynurenic acid, a substance that does not cross the blood brain barrier, so it is not able to enter the brain. This in turn protects the brain from the stress-induce changes that occurs in depression due high levels of kynurenine.


Exercise Effects on Obesity

The the same Swedish research team also feed a group of mice high fat diet that resulted in making them overweight and develop high blood sugar. They then injected these mice a daily dose of kynurenic  acid while they still continued to feed them a high fat diet.

Despite of no change in their diet this group of mice lost weight and their glucose (sugar) tolerance improved. They think it is possible that kynurenic acid helps converts white fat to brown fat which can boost metabolism and lower blood sugar levels.

There are two kinds of fat, white and brown fat. White fat stores extra calories we eat which causes us to gain weight, while the brown fat burns the calories we eat converting it to energy for the body to use. The brown fat is muscle fat, while white fat is the fat underneath our skin and internal organs.  Both of them are useful the only problem is if you have too much of the white fat it causes type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, strokes and certain types of cancer.

Obesity is progressively getting to be a greater problem worldwide resulting in the increase in type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, heart problem. The findings in this research may provide better understanding of depression and obesity that are both helped by increasing the amount of exercise and this may lead to more effective treatment approaches.


Sound Mind, Sound Body

Jorge Ruas the lead Swedish researcher said, “ We’ve linked the two parts of the expression, ‘sound mind, sound body.’ Our research adds to the understanding of why exercise training benefits the body and, in the long run, can lead to the development of new treatment of obesity and diabetes.”

Currently treatment of both depression and type 2 diabetes are rather challenging, relies heavily on the use of pharmaceuticals which have a lot of side effects and not consistently effective. Proper exercise you have for free and with no side effects should be certainly be a welcome alternative or in addition to medications for these problems.


How To Exercise With Minimal Expense

Exercise need not be in a gym, it could be brisk walking outdoors or low impact aerobics activities at home on a regular basis. Two years ago I and my wife started working out in a gym but after a year of paying the monthly fees and having to drive to gym we decided to workout at home with a set of weights and staircase exercise machine. We do this at least five times a week.  It helps when you do it together because you are able periodically remind and motivate each other to stick to the program. We exercise in front of our television so the routine does not get boring and time flies faster.


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