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Sep 18, 2014 07:35 AM EDT

Sports, Physical Activity Effective Against Depression, Study

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Sports and physical activity are effective in treating depression, according to a University of Bern study.

At least, every 10th person suffers from depression once during their lifetime. The mental illness affects physical health more than diabetes or arthritis. Depression is normally treated with antidepressants, psychotherapy, or both.

The new study has, however, found that sports and physical activity encounter the same neurophysiological changes as antidepressants.

"Unfortunately, the meta-analyses do not allow any conclusions as to how often and how long weekly sport should be pursued," Researcher Mirko Wegner said in a press release. "But one can see that sport and physical activity alleviate depression. For instance, we were also able to determine that the effectiveness of sport is greater with depressive disorders than with anxiety disorders."

Sports and physical activity induce several changes in the brain that are also brought about through drugs. The alleviating factors for depression act on brain's capacity to absorb serotonin. They toughen the epinephrine activity and guarantee the release of various factors for nerve growth. These mechanisms encourage cell growth in the brain and prevent cell death in the hippocampus which is actually caused by depression.

As a result, sports and physical activity can help to reduce activity of the stress hormone cortisol and induce an effect similar to psychotropic drugs.

The researchers said that active participation in sports is a cost-effective way of reducing symptoms of depression as it is associated with few side effects.

However, further studies are required to determine whether sports and physical activities can be used an alternative to medication for light depressions.

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