Home > Life, Neuroscience and Psychology > Exercise Cures the Blues

Exercise Cures the Blues

I was feeling a little depressed earlier this evening, so I took my own advice and got some exercise. I just finished, and I feel a lot better.

It seems to me that sometimes, we feel depressed and it’s really not about anything. It’s just that we’re tired or our brain chemistry is a little “down.” That’s when exercise, or activity, or going out with friends can help.

Back when psychology was just getting started, as a science at least, most researchers believed that depression was always a symptom of some deep personal problem. Sometimes, the problem was obvious, such as losing your job or getting dumped. But when there was no obvious cause, psychologists thought that you must be depressed because of some traumatic past experience that you’d forgotten.

Of course, some scientists didn’t believe that theory. From the 21st century as far back as the ancient Greeks, some people thought that psychological problems were caused by physical problems. The ancient Greeks thought that depression was caused by an imbalance of “humors,” which were four fluids in the body: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. As long as the humors were properly balanced, everything was fine. But if you had too much black bile, you would feel depressed.

Now, of course, we have a theory slightly like that, but much more specific and supported by scientific evidence.

Yes, sometimes people really do get depressed because of things that happened to them. But other times, their brain chemistry is just out of balance. In particular, some depressed people are low on “neurotransmitter” molecules to carry messages from one brain cell to the next. A shortage of neurotransmitters means their brain is like a light bulb connected to a battery that’s low on power. The bulb shines dimly, and it flickers instead of giving a strong, steady light.

When that’s the problem, increasing the amount of neurotransmitters can help. Most antidepressant drugs try to do that in one way or another.

As for exercise — well, nobody is totally sure how exercise helps. But most people think that it causes endorphins to be released in the brain. Endorphins aren’t neurotransmitters, but they increase the amount of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) in your brain. Exercise also gets more oxygen to your brain, which generally increases alertness and energy levels.

And speaking of that, my alertness tells me that I’ve got some studying to do. Ttfn!

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

  1. January 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I absolutely believe that exercise cures depression! When I feel upset I just go for a run or walk and I feel 100 X better afterwards.

    Great post!

    • Rinth de Shadley
      January 13, 2010 at 12:31 am

      Hi Ameena 🙂

      Thank you for visiting my blog and the nice comment!

      Exercise does help. I also checked out your blog and it’s terrific. It covers three of my current favorites (food, fashion, and books) as well as a future favorite (parenthood). 🙂

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