How To Improve Mood: Exercise for Depression


Something I have noticed when seeing patients is a strong link between being unhappy with their weight and being generally unhappy.

The good news for people who are unhappy with their weight and feeling miserable is that exercise helps both. You don’t have to be depressed and miserable for exercise to boost your mood though, it benefits everyone.

Exercise has so many benefits but today I’m going to explain 2 ways that it boosts your mood and can even cure depression.

Increase Endorphins

Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced by the brain. When they are in abundance we feel good. They are the ‘feel good’ hormones of the brain. When we are running low on these this is the result:

  1. tearful
  2. reactive
  3. low self esteem
  4. feeling isolated
  5. depressed
  6. feeling hard done to by others

When we’ve got normal levels of endorphins the picture is very different:

  1. high self esteem
  2. connected and in touch with people
  3. responsive
  4. optimistic
  5. sympathetic to others
  6. compassionate

Exercise  stimulates endorphins to be released. So regular exercise will stimulate a regular release of these feel good chemicals and as a result improve how you feel.

Increasing Serotonin

You might recognise this. This is another neurotransmitter found in the brain and it’s a big contributor to feelings of well being and happiness. This is what happens when your levels are low:

  1. depression
  2. not able to concentrate
  3. easy to fly off the handle
  4. cravings for sugar and refined carbs

When your levels are normal:

  1. happy
  2. balanced
  3. able to think
  4. hungry for nutritious food

Exercise increases the level of serotonin in the brain.

There is a ‘gate keeper’ between the general blood circulation and the brain, it’s called the blood-brain barrier. Most things need to be carried across. It’s almost like little transporter buses collect nutrients from the blood and take them over to the brain. These little buses can only carry so many things at a time.

Serotonin is made out of something called tryptophan, and we get this from the food. Other substances similar to tryptophan are trying to get on the bus to reach the brain too. The interesting thing is that these other substances are burned up to produce energy if we are active. So if we are active and burn these other things off there is loads of room on the bus for tryptophan to get across and get turned into serotonin, which will make us happier.

Alternatively you can be a couch potato and tryptophan will have to take its turn to get across, as a result you serotonin will decrease and your mood will follow.

In this blog and the previous one I have given a couple of reasons why exercise is SO good, and also the consequences of not doing it. Are you going to be more active as a result?

Comments and questions welcome as ever 🙂

Uber Health to you, Dr Julie (any ads that appear are nothing to do with me, I am NOT endorsing)

PS   I am looking for a hand full of volunteers to who want to lose weight and would like my help over the course of a few months, starting June/July 2013. Please email me if you are interested  :)

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