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Walk Off Your Blues

Scientists have found how exercising helps fight depression.

Physical exercise releases chemicals in the brain that check depression

There is great news for those who suffer from depression — walk a mile and shake off your blues.

Physical exercise has many health benefits. It’s good for your heart and elevates your mood by releasing endorphins, chemicals in the brain that minimise pain. What’s more, it is also known to help fight depression, but scientists so far hardly knew the mechanism underlying the antidepressant effect of workouts.

A team of researchers at Yale University in the US says it knows how it all works. The findings are reported in the online version of Nature Medicine this week. Experimenting on the brain of mice, the scientists — led by psychiatrist Ronald Duman — looked for genes whose expression changed in response to exercise. They found that one particular gene that is active during exercise codes for a chemical called VGF. A nerve growth factor, VGF has been known to tone up neural networks associated with learning, memory as well as metabolism. But it’s for the first time that it has been found to have some antidepressant effects as well.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the second largest cause of the loss of productive life among the age group of 15-44 years globally. In the US, nearly 16 per cent of the population suffers from it, the economic burden of which is estimated to be more than $80 billion a year.

“Although it is difficult to determine what amount of exercise is necessary for the neurochemical changes that have been observed in rodents, studies in humans have demonstrated that significant benefit to mood can be observed with relatively mild exercise, such as walking on a regular basis,” Duman told KnowHow.

He, however, adds that this may vary greatly from individual to individual, and that further studies are needed to determine the exact benefit to exercise ratio across a larger group of depressed patients as well as relatively normal individuals.

Duman and colleagues think that targeting VGF could also lead to new antidepressant drugs. Currently, only 65 per cent of depressed patients respond to the medication available.

Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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