Depression affects more than 264 million individuals globally. Research has shown that altered synaptic neuroplasticity plays a major role in the severity of depression, where those with a significant reduction in their synaptic plasticity have an increased symptomatic severity of depression. Physical activity, however, acts as a protective factor against depression – in fact, those with higher levels of physical activity have higher levels of neuroplasticity.
Physical activity is often encouraged as a mean to improve symptoms of depression. However, studies proving that physical activity can help depression have rarely focused on the neurobiological effects it can have, specifically on individuals with depression (such as the excitability of neurons and brain plasticity). Researchers at RUB carried out a study to determine the relationship between moderate intensity exercise and clinical symptoms of depression, such as lack of attention, memory and concentration, by looking at the excitability of neurons, and brain plasticity in those with depression, in comparison to a control group.
There were 50 participants in this study between the ages of 18 and 65. These participants were chosen based on their health status – such that none of them had any severe cardiovascular diseases and no major brain structure alterations. These participants were split into two different groups of 25 individuals each: a physical activity group and a control intervention group. The physical activity group exercised 3 days a week and were guided by an instructor.
There were three types of exercises: a) coordination, b) endurance, and c) strength training. Each exercise session was 60 minutes long and they did this for 3 weeks. The control intervention group completed two 90 minute sessions per week and were also guided by an instructor. They performed different games whilst seated on chairs such as card games, logical puzzles, and black stories. The participants were instructed to not participate in any physical activity outside their routine activity.
In total, 23 participants who were in the physical activity group and 18 participants in the control intervention group completed this study from start to finish. The results showed that physical activity had a positive effect on the severity of depression. The study showed that there is a reduction in plasticity in those who have depression. This reduction in plasticity can be normalised with increased physical activity, which therefore reduces the clinical representational symptoms of depression, such as loss of energy. The study also revealed that the working memory performance, executive function, and cognitive working speed had a stronger improvement in those who were in the physical activity group in comparison to those in the control group.
The study showed that a lack of physical deprives the brain of stimuli, which will therefore cause a reduction or loss of synapses. This has an effect on the plasticity found in the brain. Hence, physical activity may be a promising intervention for those with depression. The study demonstrated the role of neuroplasticity in depression and how physical activity may be an intervention that targets the reduction in plasticity seen in those with depression.
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Featured Image: Victor Freitas, Pexels
Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla