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Exercise, Healthy Diet and the Effect On Depression

Exercise, Healthy Diet and the Effect On Depression

Depression and exercising share a complicated link still not fully understood by modern science. The subject is the focus of intense and ongoing research, but current results strongly suggest significant benefits in establishing a healthy, nutrient rich diet and increasing activity levels the depressed. Depression is a complex, multifaceted subject. In today’s modern and stress rich society, many millions of individuals suffer from depression and turn almost universally to medication in order to treat it. What may come as a surprise to some is that often times these medications are designed to emulate the body’s natural response to a balanced diet and healthy exercise and that as result many of the chronically depressed could alleviate their symptoms by simply giving their body the activity and nutrients it wants.

A 2012 study by the University of Michigan demonstrated that a dramatic increase in exercise amongst adolescents correlates strongly with a dramatic decrease in the symptoms of depression[1], simultaneously calling into question the validity of the current medication-only focus of today’s society and highlighting the link between lack of exercise or activity and depression. According to the study, previous attempts have been unable to establish this link in adolescents due to lack of available evidence, but goes on to demonstrate that this correlation remains true in this group as well. This study establishes strong confidence in the relation between depression and exercising and suggests increased activity levels for depressed adolescents and adults alike.

This should not be taken to mean that any exercise routine at all is validated by this study. In fact, a study by the University of Pernambuco has linked aerobic exercise with decreased mood levels and increased anxiety levels in young adolescent males[2]. The study goes on to suggest that only moderated bouts of aerobic activity over a long period of time are associated with a decrease in tension, depression and anxiety. Thus, to be effective patients must carry through the with exercise and not seek immediate results or risk temporarily exacerbating their anxiety or depression.

While such studies have concretely established a link between depression and exercising, no studies have definitively established a direct link between diet and exercise. However, a multitude of studies including one joint 2010 study by the VU University Medical Center and several other medical research facilities[3] establishes a strong relationship between obesity, specifically visceral obesity, and the onset of major depressive disorders. Diet is inexorably linked to obesity and simple changes in an individuals diet can have significant impacts on obesity and visceral fat. Combined with exercise or an active lifestyle, it is possible to reduce or prevent the onset of visceral obesity and thereby reduce the likelihood of the onset of depression.

Again, research into the connection between depression and exercising is still ongoing and more studies will be needed before any change in the trend towards medication can be expected. For a health conscious individual or one seeking to alleviate the troubling symptoms of depression without medication and the associated side effects, however, there is enough evidence to justify a focus on better nutrition and exercise. When considered alongside the established health benefits of diet and exercise, the decision to start there rather than leap to medication with potentially troublesome side effects becomes a much simpler one.

  1. Dopp, Richard R, et al. Exercise for Adolescents with Depressive Disorders: A Feasibility Study. Depress Res Treat. 2012; 2012: 257472.
  2. 2: Lofrano-PradoAcute, Mara Cristina, et al. Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Mood and Hunger Feelings in Male Obese Adolescents: a Crossover Study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012; 9: 38.
  3. 3: Vogelzangs, Nicole, et al. Obesity and Onset of Significant Depressive symptoms. J Clin Psychiatry. 2010 April; 71(4): 391–399.

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