Exercise for Depression: How It Helps
Being physically active should be part of depression treatment, experts say.
Your Brain on Exercise continued...
“Not only is the [depressed] brain locked into a negative loop of self-hate,” he writes, “but it also loses the flexibility to work its way out of the hole.”
Exercise, Ratey says, counters that by boosting the production of BDNF (brain-developed neurotrophic factor), a protein that helps neurotransmitters perform their function, and which may help depressed people emerge from their rut. Ratey describes BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain."
To reduce depression, Ratey advises patients to follow general public health guidelines, which recommend at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week as well as two days of strength training each week.
However, not everyone will experience the antidepressant effects of exercise, Ratey cautions. He estimates that less than 50% will see a significant reduction in symptoms.
“That’s comparable to response rates for medications,” he says.
In Baxter’s practice, she finds that her patients respond better - they get a bigger mood boost - if they do exercises that require them to use their brain rather than let it run on auto pilot.
For example, a multistage exercise that requires you to lift a ball above your head then move into a forward lunge will get your brain working better than rote exercises like rowing or pedaling a stationary bike.
Ratey agrees. “We know that a harder-working brain is a smarter brain -- probably a more hopeful and motivated brain, as well,” he says.
And a more hopeful and motivated brain is just what Anita needed in order for her to begin making her way out of her depression.
“I think the workout/therapy sessions helped me move through times of being stuck or anxious more quickly,” Anita says. “I took up running on my own, and I credit the gentle but consistent talk/workout sessions with helping me reach this goal of health and fitness.”