We’re all aware of the numerous physical health benefits of regular, intense exercise, but what other benefits are there?

Well, you don’t have to look far to find mountains of good quality research linking physical exercise with improved mental health – in particular, alleviating depression and anxiety. Depression is a very common illness, effecting around 1 in 8 Australians at any time, with women more commonly effected than men. Chances are, you may have even suffered depression yourself, if not, it’s highly likely you know someone who does.

So just what is the role of exercise? After recently reviewing many randomised-controlled trials (the gold standard in terms of research), the American Psychiatric Association recently updated its ‘Guidelines for treatment of Major Depressive Disorders’ to include the encouragement and promotion of regular resistance training, having found significant improvements in patients depressive symptoms which could be partly attributed to regular resistance exercise.

It’s long been recognised that regular exercise has many benefits in depression, however it’s only been in recent times that exercise is being introduced as part of a ‘treatment plan’ for mental illness.

There is a suggestion in the world of psychiatry that counselling and exercise alone will often be sufficient treatment for milder cases of depression, and in cases where medication is required, exercise has an amplifying effect – meaning exercise improves how the antidepressant medication works!

So how does it work? There are a few things that explain why exercise (particularly intense resistance training) is effective in alleviating depressive symptoms.

Firstly, intense exercise induces many physiological responses – one of which is the release of compounds called beta-endorphin, serotonin, and noradrenaline (amongst others!). These compounds have a ‘mood boosting’ effect, and help dampen down our stress levels. One of the known physiological problems in depression and anxiety is low levels of serotonin and noradrenaline. This partly explains the ‘high’ (that we all know and love!) people feel after an intense exercise session.

Exercise also improves connections in the brain, helping ‘messages’ move better through the brain, and this is related to some of the symptoms of more marked depression – such as low energy, poor memory and concentration, and lack of motivation.

Thirdly, following a structured exercise program such as Metabolic Precision requires you to commit to a certain number of sessions each week, and this involves getting organised for, attending your session, completing it, and then travelling home. Another common feature of depression is a tendency to ‘withdraw’, that meaning, people often won’t feel like leaving their house, and won’t feel like being around others. Despite feeling like this, getting out and about is one of the best things that can be done, so committing to a regular exercise program is a great way to ensure you get out of the house and don’t shy away from the world.

Related to this is the sense of achievement and motivation – especially from resistance exercise. Striving to improve, setting small, realistic, attainable and measurable goals, and achieving those goals is a vital step in recovery. What better way to do this than through your Metabolic Precision program?!

We haven’t talked much about nutrition yet, but I want to touch on it briefly.

One of the most common, and most debilitating features of mental illness, and especially depression is loss of appetite, and loss of weight – this weight often coming from muscle tissue. Following the structured Metabolic Precision nutrition program can combat this – making yourself accountable to eat regular meals, that taste great, and are composed of quality nutrients will allow you to not only prevent this, but improve your overall metabolism and health.

Interestingly, there is some cutting edge research coming out linking inflammation (which as we know, is largely caused by highly processed, refined foods) and depression. Based on large, high-quality research, the authors are suggesting there is a connection between inflammation in the central nervous system (brain) and development of mental illness. Following the MP meal principles will drastically dampen down inflammation. Combine this with regular protein, plant foods, and high energy carbohydrates at the right times, and amongst all its other benefits, you have a stress hormone, inflammation killing nutritional program!

In summary…

- exercise, particularly intense resistance exercise, as part of an overall treatment plan is effective for alleviating symptoms of depression.

- it does this through releasing ‘feel good’ substances, and ensuring people get out and about, and stay motivated.

- metabolically precise eating will help prevent development of inflammation, which is now thought to be connected to mental illness.

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Dunn, A. L, Trivedi, M. H., Kampert, J .B., Clark, C. G., Chambliss, H. O. (2005). Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose response. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 28, 1–8.

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Gelenberg, et al (2010). PRACTICE GUIDELINE For the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder. American Psychiatric Association

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Mead, G. E., Morley,W., Campbell. P., Greig, C. A., McMurdo, M., & Lawlor, D. A. (2009). Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD004366.

Strohle, A. (2009). Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission, 116(6), 777–784.

Trivedi, M.H., Greer, T.L., Grannemann, B.D., Church, T.S., Galper, D.I., Sunderajan, P., Wisniewski S.R., Chambliss, H.O., Jordan, A.N., Finley, C., Carmody, T. I. (2006). TREAD: Treatment with Exercise Augmentation for Depression: study rationale and design. Clinical Trials, 3, 291-305.

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