Does Exercise Help With Depression? Here's What Happens in Your Brain

The effects of activity can help slow brain oxidation and inflammation.

Does Exercise Help With Depression? Here's What Happens in Your Brain

You've probably heard celebrities say they frequently exercise to stay healthy physically and mentally. Like Selena Gomez, who said, "If I don't work out…everything about me just feels a bit down." Turns out, there could be some truth to that.

Now neuroscientists from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research into Mental Illness have found out how the two are related. They discovered that (in mice) exercise stimulates the production of a molecule called lactate, which then acts as an antidepressant by helping cool excess brain oxidation and inflammation. This nourishes neurons and even stimulates the growth of new nerve connections. Other studies show exercise triggers the release of proteins called growth factors that also stimulate new nerve cell growth. This combo of benefits pushes back against the loss of neurons that's associated with depression in people and stress in animals.


A "runner's high" from the release of endorphins may create pleasing feelings, but for sustained improvement in depressive symptoms, it's the other biochemical factors that make the biggest difference. For many people with mild depression, the greatest benefit comes with almost daily, low- to moderate-intensity exercise.

So commit to walking 10,000 steps (or the equivalent) daily, enjoy aerobic sports like tennis or activities like tai chi and cycling. And for chronic or severe depression, make sure to get help fast. You can talk on the phone or chat online with a counselor 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Click here to learn about more ways you can find help.

Bonus tip: A genetic study of 840,000 people found that going to bed one hour earlier than usual decreases your risk of major depression by 23%.

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