Feeling down? Research links exercise with boost in mood

We all know that exercise does a body good.

But a recent study shows performing resistance exercise, like strength or weight training, can actually be good for our brains too.

The study looked at data from 1,877 individuals and found that resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.

Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said when we put our bodies in motion, it helps quiet our brains.

“We know that depressed individuals tend to be rather still, and when our bodies are still, our brains are pretty active,” he said. “If you look at a depressed individual, they may be relatively inactive, but their brain is working overtime.”

Dr. Bea said when we’re depressed, we tend to focus all of our energy on how we’re feeling.

He said if you were to ask a depressed person if they feel like exercising, the answer would most likely be, ‘no.’

However, if we can coax ourselves into physical activity, he said it can help us change how we’re feeling and steer us away from common symptoms of depression such as helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

“We call it behavioral activation,” said Dr. Bea. “We encourage people to have activity schedules – to plan out the next day’s activities in blocks of time. If you can commit yourself to those schedules it actually produces good brain chemistry and feelings of self-effectiveness.”

Dr. Bea said regular movement not only changes the chemistry in our bodies, but also how we think about ourselves.

He said when we’re depressed, we tend to be harsh in our self-criticism. Taking on new activities and new behaviors can help change that self-talk.

For those feeling a bit down, Dr. Bea recommends getting a buddy that will help them get motivated to get moving.

He said the brain might resist in the beginning, which is normal, until the activity becomes a habit.

“Just keep it moving, because movement, activity, and socializing, puts us in the now – that’s where all good things happen,” said Dr. Bea. Rarely do people say, “I had a great time thinking this weekend’ – rather, it’s an activity or something that puts us in touch with other people or recreations we like that delight us.”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Psychiatry.