Staying active as often as possible is one of the main recommendations for good brain health. Numerous studies have indeed shown it: playing sport regularly promotes its proper functioning by reducing the appearance of cognitive disorders. In addition to this protective effect on neurodegenerative diseases, physical exercise improves mood by releasing certain psychoactive molecules this is why it can even be part of the therapeutic management of people with depression in order to reduce their symptoms. This utility was once again demonstrated in a study published in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Psychiatry”.
In this study, researchers from the Ruhr University in Bochum (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) refer to a “double beneficial effect” of physical activity on depression. So, physical activity not only reduces depressive symptoms, it also increases the brain’s ability to change, which is necessary for the healing process. “The results show how seemingly simple things like physical activity are important in the treatment and prevention of illnesses such as depression. », Explains Professor Karin Rosenkranz, head of the study. A benefit little known until now since the depressed people are often physically inactive.
Neuroplasticity at the heart of this study
To study the effect of physical activity, researchers recruited 41 people who were undergoing treatment for major depressive disorder within a psychiatric department. Participants were each assigned to two groups, one of which followed a three-week exercise program. As most patients followed a sedentary lifestyle prior to admission to hospital, the designed program was moderate in intensity and included endurance exercises, of strength and coordination that required interaction and teamwork on their part. Conversely, the program ensured that patients did not feel in competition or in a situation of perceived failure.
This type of care “specifically promoted motivation and social unity while breaking down the fear of challenges and negative experiences. with physical activity, like during physical education classes at school. », Adds Professor Karin Rosenkranz. The other group of patients participated in a control program without physical activity. The scientific team determined the severity of depressive symptoms, such as loss of motivation and interest, lack of motivation, and negative feelings, both before and after the program. The brain’s ability to change, known as neuroplasticity, has also been measured via transcranial magnetic stimulation.
“The more the capacity for change increases, the more the symptoms decrease”
As Prof. Karin Rosenkranz explains, “the ability to change is important for all learning processes and adaptation of the brain. The study first shows that this capacity is lower in people with depression than in healthy people. But following the physical activity program completed after three weeks, this capacity for change increased significantly and reached the same values as for healthy people. In addition, depressive symptoms such as psychomotor retardation and loss of energy decreased in patients recruited into the “physical activity” group.
“The more the capacity for change increased, the more the clinical symptoms diminished,” notes Professor Karin Rosenkranz. These changes were not as pronounced in the group that participated in the control program. ” It shows than physical activity affects symptoms and the brain’s ability to change. », She concludes. If further studies are needed to better understand the mechanism involved, the main hypothesis is that regular physical activity stimulates the renewal of neurons and therefore promotes formation of neural connections. The next step will be to determine how long the changes induced by physical activity can last.