How physical activity influences depression?

On 23rd of February we celebrate the International Depression Day. According to the World Health organisation it is one of the most serious health problems in the world. Currently 350 million people around the world suffer from depressions, of which 15-20% are people over 65 years of age.


The World Health Organisation’s data shows that by 2020 depression will be the second most common disease of affluence and by 2030 it may become the first one. According to the “Current problems and events” study conducted by CBOS (Public Opinion Research Centre) in October 2018, factors that have biggest influence on becoming ill include chronic stress (68%), fast speed of life and excess duties (56%) as well as loneliness and lack of contacts with people (56%). Problems with depression are most often declared by people living in medium-size cities (20,000-99,000 residents) and least often – by people living in big cities (over 500,000 residents). As many as 82% of the respondents suffering from depression consulted a doctor while the remaining 18% stated that they didn’t see a doctor because they wanted to deal with the disease on their own.


How to recognise depression?
Depression is a chronic disease characterised by mood swings, inability to feel pleasure and general pessimism. Its effects have an impact both on a sufferer’s mental condition as well as physical health, making proper functioning on daily basis impossible.

Most common symptoms of depression include:
•    prolonged, depressed mood
•    fatigue and lack of energy
•    sleep disorders
•    difficulty concentrating
•    lack of sense
•    feeling guilty
•    low self-esteem and being useless
•    eating disorders

In the case of seniors, diagnosing depression can be a hard task. Difficulty concentrating, mood disorders, sleeplessness, withdrawal from social life, eating disorders and general passivity are often ignored by seniors who ascribe symptoms of depression to natural physiological changes connected with age. It is assumed that about 40% of depression cases among seniors remain undiagnosed.


Physical activity and depression treatment
In France sport is prescribed by doctors and in Poland physical activity is supported by employers. Currently nearly one million employees use popular sports cards which have been recently offered also to seniors. The MultiSport Senior sports card enables using sports and recreation facilities across Poland. People over 60 years of age can use such forms of physical activity as swimming, fitness, dancing or popular aquarobics as well as a salt cave once a day (before 16:00) (additional information for seniors are available here: Regular physical exercise with such a card reduces the risk of diseases of affluence, has a positive impact on the cardiovascular system, lowers blood pressure, slows dementia, improves motor coordination and supports intellectual activity by stimulating the brain.

Due to the fact that activity, especially sports, requires huge effort, the nervous system starts producing chemical substances such as endorphins or serotonin (called a happiness hormone) which aim at relieving biological stress. Their tasks include easing pain and mental tension during and after exercise. We experience their impact on our body as a better mood, state of relaxation or even euphoria. Ate the same time, the level of stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – which are largely responsible for depression resulting from fatigue, is regulated. Some proteins that are being produced during physical activity initiate repairing processes both in the muscular as well as nervous system – says Dr Sylwia Nowacka-Dobosz from the Józef Piłsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw.

Magnetic resonance imagining tests done at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California have also proven that the production and regeneration of neurons in the brain increases proportionally to the frequency and length of undertaken physical activity. It turns out that the hippocampus cells also react to physical exercise which results in better memory and cognitive skills (University of Columbia). Systematic physical activity is an important element of health prophylaxis, including mental health. The data regarding physical activity among seniors is alarming, though. According to the MultiSport Index Report, in the last six months as many as 47% of Poles over 60 years of age did not take any activity.

In one of the surveys, after less than two weeks of regular daily marching symptoms of depression among people suffering from this disease were significantly reduced. The best results are generated by aerobic physical activity that lasts 30-45 minutes and is undertaken on daily basis or every two days. One can start from traditional walking or Nordic walking. A good alternative is a treadmill or a stationary bicycle. Nevertheless, every type of physical activity is a stimulus for our body. The Blumenthal’s study of 2007 shows that physical exercise has an impact on people suffering from depression as efficiently as drug therapy – sums up Dr Nowacka-Dobosz.

Systematic exercise is more and more often treated as an important element of preventing depression and recommended as a part of depression treatment. Physical activity not only influences our mood in a positive way but also significantly improves quality of life which deteriorates during illness.

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