Exercising to treat depression: It’s more than just endorphins

We’ve known for a while now that exercise produces endorphins — the brain messengers in charge of pain and pleasure. But a recent study brings some new players into the exercise/brain health relationship: GABA and glutamate, messengers that fight anxiety and depression.

Researchers found that as little as eight minutes of vigorous exercise produced heightened levels of these important neurotransmitters. The effects were especially significant immediately following the activity, but the benefit lingered even during rest for people who exercised regularly.

Glutamate and GABA levels tend to be low in people suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, so the boost that comes from exercise could be a game changer for some.

This study dealt specifically with vigorous exercise, but the researchers plan on looking at moderate exercise in the future. In the meantime, other studies have shown that moderate exercise, like walking or gardening, is effective at treating and preventing depression. Outside exercise is especially effective.

With the sun starting to shine more and more here in Boise, now is a good time to get outside and get your heart pumping! If you want to tackle several mental health benefits at once, consider signing up for a Talk and Walk session with me. My office is right by the Boise greenbelt, so we can be out in nature, get those neurotransmitters working, and talk about your problems all at the same time. It’s one of my favorite things.

Read more about the study here.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

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