Researchers from the University of California at Davis Medical Center report that exercise can help combat depression and anxiety, a Washington Post article indicates.
According to the study, exercising increases glutamate and GABA. People with depression and anxiety have decreased levels of these neurotransmitters.
Richard Maddock, lead author of the study, stated that “major depressive disorder is often characterized by depleted glutamate and GABA, which return to normal when mental health is restored. Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.”
Maddock and his team worked with 38 healthy volunteers and a six-person control group who did not exercise. GABA and glutamate levels were measured with an advanced MRI scanner before and after exercise.
The experimental group exercised on stationary bikes at roughly 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. The control group underwent MRI scans.
According to the scans of the experimental group, the neurotransmitters increased after exercise. These increases occurred in two important areas: visual information processing and regulation of heart rate, emotions, and other cognitive functions.
Participants who did not exercise during the week prior to the study only experienced the positive effects of the increases for 30 minutes. Those who did experienced longer lasting effects.
Maddock said, “Those who had exercised in the week prior already had higher levels than those who had been sedentary. The inference here, then, is that regular exercise might keep levels higher all the time.”
More doctors are incorporating exercise into their treatment plans as research continues to link exercise to decreased depression.
Jennifer Carter, director of sport psychology at Ohio State University, believes in exercise therapy and has been encouraging it since the early 2000s.
Carter said, “I view balanced exercise as an important component in treating anxiety, depression, and other mental-health disorders. If clients are depressed, I educate them that the two best self-help strategies are exercise and social support. Fort anxious clients, I teach them how exercise helps reduce worry, panic, and other symptoms.”
Maddock is pleased with the implications of the study and wants to further explore the link between exercise and reduced depression. Next, he hopes to study 25 individuals with depression.