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The Benefits of Exercise Against Depression

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Depression and anxiety are two mental disorders that are associated with symptoms such as feeling down or restless, loss of interest in activities, or even having trouble sleeping. These mental health disorders have also been closely linked to memory loss. In an article known as, “The Effects of Depression and Anxiety on Memory Performance”, the experimenters examined how the effects of depression and anxiety were related to an individual’s memory. This study focused on a random selection of US Army veterans who were experiencing depressive symptoms. Each participant was evaluated for true depression and or anxiety and then instructed to complete the California Verbal Learning Test, which measures the relationship between verbal learning and memory.

The study found that depressive systems do have a detrimental effect on memory of new information. (Kizilbash, Vanderploeg, & Curtiss, 2002). This can also be connected to the fact that depression has been associated with atrophy with the hippocampus, which is the brain region that plays a vital role with memory functions. Studies have shown that the longer depression resides in an individual, the more severe the atrophy is within the hippocampus (Sapolsky, 2001). An article known as “Hippocampal Atrophy in Recurrent Major Depression” provides research evidence that helps support the idea that prolonged depression induces hippocampal atrophy. In this study, participants were selected based on having a history of major depressive disorders and were compared to subjects who had no history of depression. The hippocampus was measured in all individuals by using volumetric magnetic resonance images. It was found that the individuals who previously had major depression disorder had significantly smaller hippocampal volumes compared to those without a history of depression (Sheline, Wang, Gado, Csernansky, & Vannier, 1996).

However, research has also found that exercise, or more specifically type of walking gait, have shown positive affects on cognitive performance with memory. One study focused on how the style of walking can change memory feedback in individual with depressive symptoms. The experimenters instructed half of the participants to walk as though they are depressed. This entailed a slower walk, smaller arm swings, and a more slumped posture and a faster walking speed, bigger arm swings, and a more confidant posture for the happy walkers. The experimenter read out a series of words with both negative and positive connotations to both groups, who were then asked to recall the list of words later on. As a result, participants with a happy walking gait remembered more positive words and less negative words, whereas participants with a depressed gait remembered more negative words (Michalak, Rohde, & Troje, 2014). This positive impact from exercise can also be seen from the article known as, “Effects of Physical Activity on Cognitive Performance and Controlled Clinical Study in Depressive Patients.” This study focused on patients suffering from major depression disorder. One group of participants was subject to a month of physical exercise, while the other was imbedded in an occupational therapy program as a control. The results indicated that both reaction time and short-term verbal memory improved significantly more in the physical activity group (Buschert et al., 2018).

Exercise not only creates a series of benefits with memory retention, but also with depressive symptoms as a whole. One research study looked at the change in depressive symptoms after the conclusion of an exercise program. Participants with later life depression were instructed to exercise three times a week, which were supervised by heart rate monitors. They kept track of the patient’s depressive state by periodically taking assessments from the Hamilton Depression Scale. By the end of the study, the experimenters found significant improvements with the individual’s depressive symptoms with the implementation of exercise (Murri et al., 2018).

It is very interesting to investigate the relationships between depression and anxiety, memory, and exercise. Exercise is known for having enormous health benefits for cardiovascular disease and other bodily diseases. However, exercise can also have an incredible impact on the brain and aiding in a happier and healthier life.

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