Exercise helps overcome depression

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Many people go for a brisk run or walk to relieve the stresses of everyday life, but scientists have found out why the exercise is so relaxing and why it lifts your spirits.

Exercise removes harmful chemicals from the body and is able to get rid of depression.

Previous studies have shown that people feel better after exercise because of the release of endorphins. According to researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, it appears that during exercise, the muscles start acting in a similar way to the kidneys or liver and produce an enzyme which is said to eliminate a molecule which is linked to depression.

The team is hoping that in the future a drug may become available to trigger the same effect in those who are mentally ill.

According to the principal investigator at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Dr Jorge Ruas, cardiovascular exercise would more than likely have the most impact on reducing stress. He said that other forms of exercise may also impact, but the results of their study support aerobic exercise, like running or biking.

He said that skeletal muscle appears to have a detoxification effect and when activated, it can protect the brain from mental illness.

The study demonstrates why those who do not get any exercise start feeling depressed, sluggish and are more susceptible to disease.

GPs are able to prescribe exercise for depression, however, they generally opt for anti-depressant prescriptions. During the last year, 53 million antidepressant prescriptions were issued in England alone. This is almost double the number which was prescribed 10 years ago.

Researchers were aware the protein PGC-1a1 is useful in increasing skeletal muscle during exercise, but were not clear on its actual job.

The research team used genetic engineering to accomplish high levels of protein in mice and exposed them, along with a normal group of mice, to a very stressful environment of flashing lights and loud noises.

After five weeks, they discovered that the normal mice had become depressed, but the engineered mice seemed to have been protected.

Researchers believe that the protein produces an enzyme, KAT, which changes the harmful kynurenine molecule into a harmless acid which is able to pass out of the body quite easily.

A professor of Biological Psychiatry at Kings College London, Carmine Pariante, said these findings were extremely important in the understanding of depression and exercise. He said exercise is known to be beneficial for physical and mental health.

Image Credit: Garry Knight

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