Get Active to Defeat Depression

By , Category : Brain Function

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Get Active to Defeat DepressionYou’ve likely heard all the reasons why you should exercise, including why it’s good for you and how it can reduce stress and help fight depression. But although it’s become common knowledge that exercise and activity can improve your mood, I sometimes wonder how exactly it can do so. Well, newly released research may be offering the answer.

You see, doctors in Stockholm, Sweden have shown that exercise can alter biochemical processes in the body, making it impossible for depression-causing metabolites to enter the brain. Their work also uncovered a strong link between chronic stress and depression.

Let me explain how they came to this conclusion…

Doctors stressed mice to the point of depression, then put them through some exercise. What they found was that the mice greatly increased their resiliency in extremely stressful periods.

Endurance exercise promotes the activation of a protein called PGC-1a1, which promotes the growth of blood vessels, increases energy efficiency in cells, creates energy from fat, and prevents muscle atrophy. The research team also noticed that it increases the production of a metabolite called “kynurenine aminotransferase” inside muscles.

Chronic stress increases levels of kynurenine in the brain, which can bring about depression. What’s interesting, though, is that the enzymes created in the muscle—the kynurenine aminotransferase—alter kynurenine into something called “kynurenic acid.” Kynurenic acid is unable to cross the blood/brain barrier, thus protecting your brain from experiencing depression. This slight chemical change, brought on by active muscles, essentially slams the door on bad moods, the mental effects of chronic stress, and even depression.

What’s new and exciting about this discovery is that it shows how the therapeutic effects come from your muscles and enter the brain, not the other way around. Most current treatments for depression focus on altering brain chemistry, working outwards, whereas this treatment takes the opposite approach. It allows processes in your body to alter chemicals entering the brain in a natural way.

More work needs to be done, but this study could offer valuable insight into depression treatment, while providing yet another reason to get active!

Sources for Today’s Article:
Healy, M., “Exercise as a prescription for depression: Here’s how it works,” Los Angeles Times web site, September 25, 2014;
Agudelo, L., et al., “Skeletal Muscle PGC-1a1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression,” Cell September 25, 2014; 159(1): 33–45, doi:

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Dr. Richard Foxx, MD

About the Author, Browse Richard's Articles

Richard M. Foxx, MD has decades of medical experience with a comprehensive background in endocrinology, aesthetic and laser medicine, gynecology, and sports medicine. He has extensive experience with professional athletes, including several Olympic competitors. Dr. Foxx practices aesthetic and laser medicine, integrative medicine, and anti-aging medicine. He is the founder and Medical Director of the Medical and Skin Spa located in Indian Wells, California, at the Hyatt Regency Resort. Dr. Foxx is certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners... Read Full Bio »