Everybody knows exercise is good for you in many ways, but for many of us the most important benefit is psychological. Simply put exercise makes us feel better. But how?
Molecular Mechanisms involved Exercise and Depression
A key player in the anti-depression effects of exercise is biochemical called kynurenine which is created from the amino acid tryptophan. Kynurenine can be turned into kynurenic acid which is a neuroprotective agent OR quinolinic acid which is a neurotoxin and associated with depression.
Exercising muscles take up kynurenine which prevents it conversion to quinolinic acid and thereby help prevent depression.
Another biochemical involved in the anti-depressant effects of exercise is called brain derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF for shot. BDNF is key to neuroplasticity which is the ability of the brain to restructure itself. Neuroplasticity is limited in depression and other mental disorders. Exercise increased BDNF and helps the brain remodel and adapt to stress which is key to preventing and treating depression while improving cognition.
Exercise also boosts endocannabinoids which reduce anxiety and the perception of pain. The now infamous CBD from hemp and marijuana is one of many cannabinoids, and scientists have identified an entire cannabinoid system in humans.
At the same time exercise boosts endogenous opiates – yes your body makes its own versions of opiates to help control pain. One class of the opiates produced by the body are the well-known beta endorphins.
Another key anti-depressant mechanism in exercise is that vigorous exercise increases the levels of norepinepherine and dopamine and helps the brain balance its stress response. Both of these neurotransmitters have potent ability to prevent and reverse depression.
These multiple biochemical pathways likely work synergistically to produce the amazing anti-depressant effects of exercise.
It is critical to remember that exercise is not a substitute for clinical treatment of depression. While effective exercise is not 100% effective and depression is often a prelude to suicide. Always seek a licensed health care professional for long-standing depression that does not relent.