Friday, July 13, 2007

Running Rats are Happier AND Grow New Brain Cells

With a headline like that, you could easily expect this article to fall under the "News of the Weird" category. However, this article isn't off-beat in the least. It shows, once again, that exercise is a viable cure for depression. Okay, so the test subjects were rats who ran on wheels. We humans hit the treadmill. Not much of a difference, is there?

I digress. Let's move on to the study...

A group of Swedish researchers genetically altered rats to exhibit depressive behaviors and matched them up against their non-depressed rat counterparts. A portion of rats from each group had free access to running wheels for 30 days and others did not. After 30 days, researchers found that the running rats were a cheery bunch of rats. In fact, running had a similar effect as common SSRI (selective serotonin re uptake inhibitors) antidepressants.

This is not new news. Study upon study upon study shows that running and other forms of aerobic exercise provide powerful antidepressant effects. The amazing part of this research was that exercise actually prompted new brain cells growth.

When researchers examined the hippocampus region of the rats' brains, they found that neurons increased dramatically in the depressed rats after wheel-running. Past studies found the human brain's hippocampus (area involved in learning and memory) shrinks in depressed individuals.

If you feel like you are on the treadmill of life, my suggestion is to lace up your running shoes and hit the treadmill, hit the streets running or sign up for a daily aerobics class. Your brain and your mood will thank you.

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