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Physical activity may benefit the brain during periods of depression, study finds

Experts say exercise can help overall brain function

Photo (c) damircudic - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum explored the mental health benefits associated with physical activity

According to their findings, staying active can have significant brain benefits for consumers struggling with depression. The study showed that regular physical activity helps the brain adapt to change and helps reduce depression-related symptoms. 

“The results show how important seemingly simple things like physical activity are in treating and preventing illnesses such as depression,” said researcher Dr. Karin Rosenkranz. 

Mental health benefits of exercise

The researchers had more than 40 people receiving clinical treatment for depression participate in the study. For three weeks, one group of participants completed an exercise program while the other group maintained their regular routine. The researchers tracked the participants’ depression symptoms throughout the course of the study to determine what role exercise played in their mental health outcomes. 

The study showed that engaging in physical activity had several brain-related benefits. One important finding was that the exercise was associated with a better ability to both change and adapt to change. The researchers explained that these are key factors for consumers with depression because struggling with mental health can impact the willingness to change. 

“The ability to change is important for all of the brain’s learning and adaptation processes,” said Rosenkranz. 

The researchers also learned that exercise helped reduce the participants’ depression symptoms; the more they were able to change, the more manageable their symptoms were by the end of the study. Participants showed improvements in several key areas: negative feelings, a loss of interest, and a lack of motivation. Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings emphasize the mental health benefits associated with regular physical activity. 

“This shows that physical activity has an effect on symptoms and the brain’s ability to change,” Rosenkranz said. “We cannot say to what extent the change in symptoms and the brain’s ability to change are causally linked based on this data. It is known that physical activity does the brain good, as it, for instance, promotes the formation of neuron connections. This could certainly also play a role here.” 

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