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How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay

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Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.

Scientists have long questioned whether and how physical activity affects mental health. While we know that exercise alters the body, how physical activity affects moods and emotions is less well understood.

Past studies have sometimes muddied rather than clarified the body and mind connections. Some randomized controlled trials have found that exercise programs, often involving walking, ease symptoms in people with major depression.

But many of these studies have been relatively small in scale or had other scientific deficiencies. A major 2013 review of studies related to exercise and depression concluded that, based on the evidence then available, it was impossible to say whether exercise improved the condition. Other past reviews similarly have questioned whether the evidence was strong enough to say that exercise could stave off depression.

A group of global public-health researchers, however, suspected that newer studies and a more rigorous review of the statistical evidence might bolster the case for exercise as a treatment of and block against depression.

So for the new analyses, they first gathered all of the most recent and best-designed studies about depression and exercise.

Then, for perhaps the most innovative of the new studies, which was published last month in Preventive Medicine, they focused on whether exercise could help to prevent someone from developing depression.

The scientists knew that many past studies of that topic had relied on people providing reports about how much they had exercised. We human beings tend to be notoriously unreliable in our memories of past workouts, though.

So the researchers decided to use only past studies that had objectively measured participants’ aerobic fitness, which will rise or fall depending on whether and how much someone exercises. Participants’ mental health also had to have been determined with standard testing at the start and finish of the studies, and the follow-up time needed to have been at least a year and preferably longer.

Ultimately, the researchers found several large-scale past studies that met their criteria. Together, they contained data on more than 1,140,000 adult men and women.

Among these million-plus people, the links between fitness and mental health turned out to be considerable. When the researchers divided the group into thirds, based on how aerobically fit they were, those men and women with the lowest fitness were about 75 percent more likely to have been given diagnoses of depression than the people with the greatest fitness. The men and women in the middle third were almost 25 percent more likely to develop depression than those who were the most fit.

In a separate study (some of the scientists were involved in each of the reviews), researchers looked at whether exercise might be useful as a treatment for depression. In that analysis, which was published in June in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, they pooled data from 25 past studies in which people with clinically diagnosed depression began some type of exercise program. Each study had to include a control group that did not exercise and be otherwise methodologically sophisticated.

The pooled results persuasively showed that exercise, especially if it is moderately strenuous, such as brisk walking or jogging, and supervised, so that people complete the entire program, has a “large and significant effect” against depression, the authors wrote. People’s mental health tended to demonstrably improve if they were physically active.

The final review offers some hints about why. Published in February in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, it took on the difficult issue of what happens within our bodies during and after exercise that might affect and improve our moods. The researchers analyzed 20 past studies in which scientists had obtained blood samples from people with major depression before and after they had exercised. The samples on the whole indicated that exercise significantly reduced various markers of inflammation and increased levels of a number of different hormones and other biochemicals that are thought to contribute to brain health.

But the researchers also caution that most of the physiological studies they reviewed were too small and short-term to allow for firm conclusions about how exercise might change the brain to help fight off gloom.

Still, the three reviews together make a sturdy case for exercise as a means to bolster mental as well as physical health, said Felipe Barreto Schuch, an exercise scientist at the Centro Universitário La Salle in Canoas, Brazil, who, with Brendon Stubbs, a professor at King’s College in London, was a primary author on all of the reviews.

 

Many more experiments are still needed to determine the ideal amounts and types of exercise that might help both to prevent and treat depression, Dr. Schuch said.

But he encouraged anyone feeling overwhelmed by recent events, or just by life, to go for a run or a bike ride. “The main message” of his and his colleagues’ reviews, he said, “is that people need to be active to improve their mental health.”

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Exercise may aid in weight control and help to fend off diabetes by improving the ability of fat cells to burn calories, a new study reports. It may do this in part by boosting levels of a hormone called irisin, which is produced during exercise and which may help to turn ordinary white fat into much more metabolically active brown fat, the findings suggest.
      Irisin (named for the Greek goddess Iris) entered the scientific literature in 2012 after researchers from Harvard and other universities published a study in Nature that showed the previously unknown hormone was created in working muscles in mice. From there, it would enter the bloodstream and migrate to other tissues, particularly to fat, where it would jump-start a series of biochemical processes that caused some of the fat cells, normally white, to turn brown.
      Brown fat, which is actually brown in color, burns calories. It also is known to contribute to improved insulin and blood sugar control, lessening the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Most babies, including human infants, are plump with brown fat, but we humans lose most of our brown fat as we grow up. By the time we are adults, we usually retain very little brown fat.
      In the 2012 study, the researchers reported that if they injected irisin into living mice, it not only turned some white fat into brown fat, it apparently also prevented the rodents from becoming obese, even on a high-fat, high-calorie diet.
      But in the years since, some scientists have questioned whether irisin affects fat cells in people to the same extent as it seems to in mice — and even whether the hormone exists in people at all.
      A study published last year in Cell Metabolism by the same group of researchers who had conducted the first irisin study, however, does seem to have established that irisin is produced in humans. They found some irisin in sedentary people, but the levels were much higher in those who exercise often.
      But whether irisin acted beneficially in human fat cells the same way as it did in the bodies and cells of mice was still an open and disputed question.
      So for the new study, which was published in August in the American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers at the University of Florida turned to white fat tissue from women who had undergone breast reduction surgery at the university hospital (with permission) and also to a very small amount of brown fat from people who had had surgery to treat kidney cancer. Most of our meager stores of brown fat cluster around our kidneys.
      The researchers, who had previously studied irisin’s effects in mice, had a form of the human hormone available and now set out to marinate the fat cells with it, using three different dosages.
      Some of the white fat cells that they treated were mature, while others were baby cells, essentially stem cells that could grow into fat or other types of tissue. They also bathed the brown fat with irisin.
      All of the cells were soaked with the hormone for four days.
      Throughout, the scientists checked the levels of a protein called UCP1 that is known to contribute to the browning of white fat, as well as for other biochemical markers that would indicate that the white cells were browning.
      They found such markers, particularly in the cells that were exposed to moderate or high doses of irisin. Those cells soon began to produce significantly more UCP1 than other cells and also were more metabolically active, meaning that, in the body, they would burn calories.
      At the same time, many of the stem cells in the fat tissue exposed to irisin ceased being fat cells and instead became a type of cell that matures into bone. The tissue treated with irisin, in fact, wound up with about 40 percent fewer mature fat cells than tissue untouched by the hormone.
      Irisin had no effects on brown fat.
      The results strongly indicate that irisin nudges human white fat to become brown and also suppresses the formation of new white fat, says Li-Jun Yang, a professor of hematopathology at the University of Florida and senior author of the study (which was funded by the scientists themselves). It also seems to promote the formation of bone.
      “I think this study helps us to understand how, at a cellular level, exercise makes us healthier,” Dr. Yang says.
      But these were living cells, not living bodies, and the effects of irisin in actual people still need to be established, she says, especially since many studies have shown that exercise rarely results in significant weight loss. Scientists also do not know what types of exercise lead to the greatest production of irisin or what amount of irisin might be ideal for health purposes.
      Dr. Yang hopes to conduct studies of the hormone in people.
      But even now, the science related to irisin is compelling enough, she says, that “my advice is, exercise as much as you can. We know it’s healthy and now we’re beginning to understand better why.”

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      FRIDAY, Aug. 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Couch potatoes have a higher risk of developing dementia in old age, a new study reports.
      Seniors who get little to no exercise have a 50 percent greater risk of dementia compared with those who regularly take part in moderate or heavy amounts of physical activity, the researchers found.
      Moderate physical activity can include walking briskly, bicycling slower than 10 miles an hour, ballroom dancing or gardening, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
      "It doesn't require intensive physical activity to decrease risk of dementia," said senior researcher Dr. Zaldy Tan. He is medical director of the Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program at University of California, Los Angeles. "Even moderate amounts are fine."
      Study participants aged 75 or older gained the most protective benefit from exercise against the onset of dementia, the findings showed.
      "The message here is that you're never too old to exercise and gain benefit from it," Tan said. "These patients derive the most benefit from exercise because they are the ones who are at the age of greatest risk for dementia."
      Brain scans of participants showed those who exercise are better able to withstand the effects of aging on the brain, the study authors said.
      With age, the brain tends to shrink. But people who regularly exercised tended to have larger brain volumes than those who were sedentary, Tan and his colleagues found.
      The new study involved about 3,700 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a federally funded health research project begun in 1948. All were 60 and older.
      Researchers measured how often the participants exercised, and tracked them over a decade. During the study, 236 people developed dementia.
      To see how physical activity might have affected dementia risk, the researchers broke the study population down into fifths that ranged from sedentary to highly active.
      The one-fifth containing the most sedentary people were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than the other four-fifths, the investigators found. In other words, even a little exercise helped.
      The research team also compared physical activity to brain scans taken of about 2,000 study participants, and found a direct connection between exercise and brain size as people aged. Those who worked out had more total brain volume.
      There are several theories why exercise might help brain health. Increased blood flow caused by physical activity might "beef up" the brain, increasing its volume and promoting the growth of additional neurons, said Dr. Malaz Boustani. He is research director of the Healthy Aging Brain Center at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and a spokesman for the American Federation for Aging Research.
      "Physical exercise might end up leading to increased density of the connections between the neurons and create alternative pathways for signals" that might otherwise be impeded due to age-related brain shrinkage, he added.
      Boustani likened this process to a street system in a city. The more alternative routes are available to drivers, the less likely it is that a blockage on one street will lead to a city-wide traffic jam.
      Exercise also promotes secretion of helpful brain chemicals such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Tan explained that "BDNF actually encourages the growth of new neurons, and the preservation of those we already have."
      Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer's Association, said that the true answer is likely a combination of factors related to exercise.
      "It's likely there are multiple benefits, and they all funnel together," Snyder said.
      According to Boustani, these results support other studies that have shown an association between exercise and protection against dementia, but clinical trials aimed at proving a definite link have so far been disappointing.
      "When we take it to the next step and start doing experiments, randomizing patients to physical exercise versus no physical exercise and see if that will protect their brain, the story becomes a little bit muddy and unclear," he said.
      Regardless, Boustani said he prescribes moderate intensity physical exercise to his patients as one way to preserve their brain health -- 5,000 steps a day for about a month, increasing to 10,000 steps over time.
      "Given that there's no harm, and there's a possible benefit to the brain that hasn't been fully explained, I work with my patients and their families to help improve their physical activity," he said.
      The findings were published online recently in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      The driver of an SUV whose car was left covered in body parts when a suicidal construction worker landed on it after jumping from 53 stories is suing his employers.
      Donna Crockett has filed a suit against Turner Construction accusing them of negligence, strict liability for an ultra-hazardous activity and loss of consortium between spouses.
      She was kept in hospital for 10 hours after electrician Joseph Sabbatino fell 800ft from the $1billion Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles onto her vehicle - and says she cannot get over the horrific scene.
      Ms Crockett is now seeking unspecified damages alleging that Turner Construction should have been aware of Sabbatino's condition and were negligent in hiring him.
      Turner Construction have not yet commented on the case.
      Coroner's lieutenant David Smith earlier confirmed that the 36-year-old's death - on only his second day on the job - was suicide.
      Sabbatino's father Vance revealed that his son had a long battle with depression and had been taking medication before his death.
      His devastated wife Melken Sabbatino wrote on Facebook after his tragic death that she was 'thinking about my husband. Missing you.' 
      Authorities found that the married Jehovah's Witness had removed his helmet and had not been wearing a harness before the fall.
      Turner Construction released a statement to say there had been a safety barrier on the 53rd floor to prevents falls, and that the incident had not been work related.
      Around 1,000 employees were given the day off following Sabbatino's death.
      Horrified witnesses described the moment they saw Sabbatino fall to his death and land on a car below.
      James Armstrong III, who had been walking to a nearby bank moments after the fall, said Ms Crockett had been 'hysterical' and waving her hands in the air.
      'It's really taken a toll on me, because right now, I'm not strong and right now I am hurting,' Ms Crockett told KTLA.
      'It was traumatic, it something that I never thought I would have to see.'
      She was taken to hospital after the incident in shock.
      Mel Melcon, an LA Times photographer, was on assignment at the building when he noticed the man's body lying 'off the driver's side of the car.'
      'It sounded like a bag of cement fell off the edge of the building,' he said.
      'No one thought it was a body,' Mr Melcon told his paper. 'We heard no screams.' 
      The vehicle escaped major damage but the rear side panel was splattered with blood, officials said.  
      After Sabbatino's body hit Donna Crockett's car, she got out and saw 'brain and other internal bodily matter splattered across her vehicle and the surrounding scene', CBS reported.
      The suit says Crockett had never before seen a dead body and the experience left her 'shocked, overwhelmed, panicked, distressed and completely distraught.'  
      For confidential support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255. 


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    • By io.porog
      Depression is more than just a fleeting downer. We all have downers but they usually short lived. However, when a downer lasts several weeks, it is likely that a person has clinical depression. One's perception of themselves, others and their environment becomes noticeably negative and it can be very hard for a person to lift themselves out of the mire. Telling them to snap out of it, or that it is temporary often has the reverse effect desired. Often just a very patient listening ear is the best treatment that I've found with friends who suffer from depression. What do you think depression is? How do think it should be viewed? What do you think can help a person recover?
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