Doctors Say Running Helps Depression. Are They Telling the Truth?
One minute you're so happy you can't stop grinning. In the next, a big black hole settles over your mood. Can running end this nightmare? Doctors say yes.
According to a Harvard Medical School publication, depression is caused by brain chemicals gone haywire, leaving people feeling so sad, they can barely function. Researchers agree that “faulty mood regulation” in brain centres has roots in multiple factors: genetics, stress, pharmaceuticals and ailments. In combination, the sunniest individual can experience debilitating mood swings.
It would be great if someone invented a tool to help the brain regulate mood swings, but until a miracle comes along, the closest scientists have come to understanding why we get depressed is the identification of specific areas of the brain; centres like the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus. When a stressor comes along, these centres light up like New Year's Eve fireworks on the Bay as the production of new nerve cells comes to a halt.
Once those cells start diminishing, this perfect storm of predisposition and stress plunges depressives into a state of despair—but happily, those moods don't have to linger. All-natural therapies can short circuit mood swings and you won’t find a more effective way to vanquish depression than by doing what you love: running. A run a day keeps depression at bay!
Your depression may have medical or genetic roots
Medical professionals say some mood disorders have medical or hereditary roots, so a visit to your doctor for a check-up is essential if you’re depressed.
The key to your journey back to good mental health may have pharmaceutical, dietary and lifestyle solutions, so consider all of these potential mood disorder contributors:
- Degenerative neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.
- Your body may suffer from nutritional deficiencies (e.g., Vitamin B12) if you don’t watch your diet.
- Your endocrine system could be out of balance, so you produce too many or too few hormones.
- Depression could be symptomatic of having an immune system disease or condition.
- A virus can provoke depression—particularly HIV, Hepatitis and mononucleosis.
- Depression can be a symptom of cancer.
- Medications taken for unrelated ailments can cause mood swings, too.
Move it to lose it
The American Psychological Association calls it “The Exercise Effect”. You’ll call it lifesaving if you suffer depressive mood swings. Pairing treatment with exercise is the new frontier and the reason professional therapists prescribe a mix of activity with counselling protocols and/or drugs to treat the whole patient.
Says Duke University clinical psychologist James Blumenthal, PhD, "There's good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people.” He has witnessed firsthand how the cessation of activity can plunge people into depression when injuries prohibit regularly-scheduled workouts. “Exercise,” he wrote in the journal “Psychosomatic Medicine,” is comparable to anti-depression meds!
Why running is the best mood buster of all!
All deference given to those who cycle, swim and undertake other forms of exercise, but for committed runners, there is no substitute. A runner can have a lousy day at the office. Become frustrated by their kids. Mourn a lost relationship—and without too much time and fanfare, she can be off on a mind-soothing sprint to leave all of these stressors behind.
Why do people come up with excuses to avoid exercise? Because other physical activity pursuits may require time, planning, money and gadgets so depressed people stay sad, take anti-depressants and see therapists, only to find that something’s still missing.
Add running to other recommended protocols and look forward to these 9 benefits:
- Running delivers near-instant gratification as brain centres receive energy bursts.
- A pair of shorts, t-shirt and running shoes are all you need to bust a move.
- Run anywhere you like. It costs nothing thanks to Singapore’s lush park circuits.
- Meet other runners. Socialise and make friends to help lift your mood.
- Who needs online dating when you can experience euphoria hooking up with run mates?
- Run 24/7. No stressing over finite gym and facility hours.
- Burn calories. For folks with weight issues, slimming down works wonders on moods.
- Bolster your ego by collecting finisher medals and displaying them on your walls.
- Get into the fresh air, clear your depression cobwebs and your lungs benefit, too.
Does this mean you’re cured?
At the moment, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to depression management, but runners possess all of the ammunition needed to fight flare-ups as quickly as they hit. You can't do a thing about your genes or inherited predisposition to mental health issues, but you can become entrenched in your community’s running culture where a free “prescription” for dealing with depression (endorphins) costs you nothing.
Who knows—perhaps one day you’ll be able to spot signs of depression in someone else and introduce him or her to a world that has been your prescription for good living: the running scene. You're the doctor this time around, Savvy Runner. And you don't need a wall-full of degrees to help others running in the shoes you used to occupy!
Have you already had the privilege of helping someone suffering from depression find a solution to their mood swings by introducing them into running?