Exercise Protects the Brain from Depression

Want to give depression the old heave-ho? Hit the gym.

A study published in Cell has found that exercise helps the body create an enzyme called purges the body of amino acids called kynurenine, which have been long-known to have a negative effect on mental health.

Researchers developed a genetically modified strain of mice with high levels of PGC-1(alpha)1, the enzyme in question. They then exposed these mice, along with control mice, to a stressful environment of noise and flashing lights in order to induce stress. After five weeks, the normal mice exhibited signs of depression—which, in mice, means lethargy and disinterest in food. The modified mice, however, showed no signs of depression.

According to researchers, “Our initial research hypothesis was that trained muscle would produce a substance with beneficial effects on the brain. We actually found the opposite: well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances. So in this context the muscle’s function is reminiscent of that of the kidney or liver.”

Scientists think that this could open the door to new treatments in the field of mental health. In the mean time, though, perhaps you should just hit the gym. Then you’ll be as exuberant and bouncy as the participants in the 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship.

Well, hopefully not.

Photo courtesy of Guillermo Barrios del Valle

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