Depression Part 1: Get Moving


This is Part One of a series dealing with depression in which we will explore a variety of lifestyle changes that can help combat the effects of depression; these changes include exercise, exposure to sunlight, better diet and sleep, and social connections. Part One focuses on the benefit of exercise.

Part 1: Get Moving!

There is no doubt that the rate of depression has increased in this country since the Industrial Revolution. But is this increase merely due to the fact that we are more in tune with our feelings and actively seek out treatment, or are there other factors at play?

Dr. Stephen Ilardi, of the University of Kansas and creator of the "Therapeutic Lifestyle Change" treatment for depression, notes that "the lifestyle of the average person today is quite different than that of our ancestors." Those who came before us lived a hunter-gatherer existence, with plenty of physical activity, exposure to sunlight, a healthy diet, and social connections within small, tight-knit communities.

Ilardi says "our diets have become filled with processed convenience food, our sleep is often shortened and disturbed, and we spend more time sitting at desks or on couches than being active outdoors."

He adds that our culture values independence and success over social connections. We have become increasingly more isolated, living farther from the support of family, and having to rely on smaller groups for social relationships.

Ilardi states, "While our lifestyles have changed dramatically over the last few centuries, the evolution of our bodies has not kept up. Our bodies were designed to live the lifestyle our ancestors lived, with a balanced diet, as well as plenty of exercise, sunlight, sleep, and social support." Ilardi says this "mismatch between our modern environment and the environment our bodies were designed to live in" may be the reason for the rise in physical and mental ailments including depression.

Ilardi proposes that if we make changes to our lifestyles, including becoming more active, getting outdoors, eating healthier and connecting more with others, we may be able to improve our lives and combat depression.

Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John J. Ratey also recognizes the possible benefits of exercise to those suffering from depression. Ratey states that "depression shuts down the brain's ability to adapt to new situations by limiting the ability of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine) to foster communication throughout the brain." These chemicals can help foster a feeling of happiness and well-being.

Ratey suggests that a depressed brain loses its ability to work its way out of the hole. He goes on to say that exercise boosts the production of BDNF (brain-developed neurotrophic factor), a protein that helps neurotransmitters perform their function, and which may help depressed people emerge from their rut.

While not everyone will feel their depression lift with regular exercise, it is certainly a step in the right direction that can provide multiple benefits from improving cardiovascular health to reducing day-to-day stress and, quite possibly, lightening depression.

-Cathy Cairns, Administration Assistant 

Works Cited