Physical Activity Can Ease Depression

September 20, 2021 Joe Brady
Woman jogging with a dog
The study found that physical activity can improve mood afterward. Pilin_Petunyia/iStock/Thinkstock

When you are physically active your brain releases a neurotransmitter hormone called nor-epinephrine, “the happiness and contentedness hormone”. This is part of how the brain regulates its own moods. We were designed to live an active vigorous life, and when we do, we feel better, sleep better, have more energy, and scientists are finding that we can also use exercise as medicine as an important component in the treatment of depression.

Researchers found that how much sleep you get, how much energy you have, and how much physical activity you do can affect feelings of depression. The findings suggest that physical activity may improve your mood and sleep.

Physical activity can help improve your health and quality of life. Not getting enough can increase your risk for some diseases and mental health issues.

A research team looked at the relationship between sleep, physical activity, energy, and people’s moods. They collected data about physical activity and sleepover two weeks using devices worn around the wrist.

Participants used mobile devices to rate their mood and energy levels four times a day. Ratings ranged from “very happy” to “very sad” for mood and “very tired” to “very energetic” for their energy levels. They also rated their sleep and daily activities.

The team found that physical activity improved people’s moods later in the day. The effect was even larger for those with bipolar disorder, a mood disorder that has periods of feeling extremely “up” to feeling very “down” and depressed. Physical activity also made people feel more energetic and affected their sleep.

Feeling tired and getting too much sleep decreased people’s physical activity. But their moods during the day didn’t change how much physical activity or sleep they got later.

“The research team and I are currently conducting additional studies to understand these complex interactions better,” says Dr. Kathleen Merikangas, a mental health researcher at NIH.

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Real-time Mobile Monitoring of the Dynamic Associations Among Motor Activity, Energy, Mood, and Sleep in Adults With Bipolar Disorder. Merikangas KR, Swendsen J, Hickie IB, Cui L, Shou H, Merikangas AK, Zhang J, Lamers F, Crainiceanu C, Volkow ND, Zipunnikov V. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Dec 12. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3546. [Epub ahead of print]. PMID: 30540352.

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