The famous Latin phrase “mens sana in corpore sano“ (healthy mind in a healthy body) illustrates the fact that man has always felt the need to exercise the body in order to achieve mental well-being.
Depression is a disease that incapacitates humans and one of the most common psychiatric illnesses – one in four women and one in ten men may experience depressive episodes at any point in their lives. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, lack of self-confidence, generalized feelings of guilt, pessimism and disbelief. This is all accompanied by a lack of vitality that increases the risk of sinking into a black hole of hopelessness, which may eventually lead to suicide contemplation.
How exercise breaks this vicious cycle
The practice of physical exercise is a good way to prevent and combat depression. It is now a very well-documented fact that regular physical exercise (especially aerobic exercise) has beneficial effects on overall health, physical and mental. At the psychological level, it reduces anxiety and stress plus improves self-esteem and cognition. The uplifting effect of physical exercise stems from the release of substances such as endorphins, which provide a sense of peace, tranquility and pleasure. These uplifting effects counteract the unhealthy moods and neurological states correlated with depression.
BDNF signaling: One such mechanism is BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) signaling. Exercise induces significant production of this hormone over the long term, and this has been associated with a vast array of neurological health factors. BDNF signaling has been found to negatively correlate with the onset of depressive symptoms on a neurological level (as well as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia). Aerobic exercise also helps to curb the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes BDNF signaling and a strong immune system.
Neurostimulants: Anadamide, B-Phenylethylamine and B-Endorphin are some of the substances released as a result of exercise. They have mood-lifting as well as neurostimulant effects. Since it is a potent liberator of neurostimulants, physical exercise creates a ‘healthy addiction’ when practiced regularly. Its euphoric effects, coupled with the improvement in self-esteem, brings about a state of fullness to the regular practitioner, imparting benefits on all levels.
When and how
A daily regimen of 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day is all it takes. But the secret lies in a routine that is enjoyable for the patient who practices it in the long run. It is essential to transform daily physical activity into an act of pleasure and to make the most of the well-being that the practice provides.