recovery from depression

Physical activity improves symptoms of depression, making change possible

Physical activity improves symptoms of depression, making change possible

The beneficial effect of physical activity on depression is confirmed by a new study. Researchers discover that physical activity not only reduces depressive symptoms it also increases the brain’s ability to change, which is necessary for adaptation and learning processes.

“The results show how important seemingly simple things like physical activity are in treating and preventing illnesses such as depression,” says study leader Dr. Karin Rosenkranz.

Exercise program promotes motivation and togetherness

People with depression often withdraw and are physically inactive. To investigate the effect of physical activity, researchers enlisted 41 people, who were undergoing treatment at the hospital, for the study. The participants were each assigned to one of two groups, one of which completed a three-week exercise program. The program, which was developed by a sports science team, was varied, included fun elements, and did not come across as a competition or test, but instead employed teamwork from the participants. The other group took part in a control program without physical activity.

The study team ascertained the severity of the depressive symptoms, such as a loss of drive and interest, lack of motivation and negative feelings, both before and after the program. The brain’s ability to change, known as neuroplasticity, was also measured. It can be determined externally with the help of transcranial magnetic stimulation. “The ability to change is important for all of the brain’s learning and adaptation processes,” explains Rosenkranz.

Ability to change increased — symptoms decreased

The results show that the brain’s ability to change is lower in people with depression than in healthy people. Following the program incorporating physical activity, the ability to change increased significantly among participants, reflecting the same markers as healthy people. At the same time, depressive symptoms decreased in the group. “The more the ability to change increased, the more clearly the clinical symptoms decreased,” says researchers. These changes were not so pronounced in the group who took part in the control program. This shows that physical activity influences symptoms and the brain’s ability to change. “We cannot say to what extent the change in symptoms and the brain’s ability to change are causally linked based on this data,” says the doctor. “It is known that physical activity does the brain good, as it, for instance, promotes the formation of neuron connections. This could certainly also play a role here.”

Read this article on Science Daily: Ruhr-University Bochum. “Physical activity jolts brain into action in the event of depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 2021. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/08/210804123610.htm.


Dr. Jenny Holland, PsyD

Dr. Holland is a psychotherapist practicing in Sonoma County California, providing cutting edge, integrative and evidence-based mental health care, proven effective with depression and anxiety, life transitions; pregnancy, parenting, ageing, loss, and caring for a parent or loved one during a health crisis or decline.

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