Why the Brain Gets a Boost from Exercise

New research explains why exercise improves our mental health and mood.

 

Exercise is not only good for the body, but for the brain as well. Vigorous physical activity has a positive impact on brain function, mental health and mood. Now researchers from the University of California-Davis Health System have discovered one of the reasons why.

The results of their recent study show that high-intensity exercise results in increased levels of glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. These two neurotransmitters regulate the chemical messaging that occurs in the brain.

Within the brain are cells that control physical and mental wellbeing. GABA and glutamate facilitate the flow of messages between these cells. Low levels of these neurotransmitters can lead to depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

In a news release from UC Davis, study lead author Richard Maddock said, “Major depressive disorder is often characterized by depleted glutamate and GABA, which return to normal when mental health is restored. Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.”

The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, also provide new insights into brain metabolism. Intense physical activity causes the brain to consume large amounts of glucose and other carbohydrates. In fact, it devours more of this fuel during exercise than during other demanding activities, such as solving complex math equations or strategizing during a game of chess. The researchers now believe that the brain uses the extra energy to produce more neurotransmitters.

38 healthy volunteers participated in the study. The subjects rode on stationary bikes to reach 85% of their maximum heart rate. The research team used MRI imaging to measure GABA and glutamate levels in two areas of the brain before and after exercise. They did the same for a control group that did not exercise.

While there was no significant change in the neurotransmitter levels of the control group, the subjects who exercised showed increased levels of both glutamate and GABA. These increases occurred in two different parts of the brain: the visual cortex (where visual sensory input is processed) and the anterior cingulate cortex (which regulates heart rate, emotion and some cognitive mechanisms).

While the increased levels of glutamate and GABA appeared to diminish with time, there appear to be more enduring effects as well.

“There was a correlation between the resting levels of glutamate in the brain and how much people exercised during the preceding week,” said Maddock, who is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “It’s preliminary information, but it’s very encouraging.”

Maddock and his team hope to perform further research using brain-imaging combined with exercise to determine the impact of less intense physical activity on neurotransmitter levels. They also plan to investigate which specific types of exercise are most beneficial for those suffering from depression.

 

Article sources:

News release, University of California-Davis Health System.

Voss, M. Journal of Applied Physiology, .

 

 

Do You Have a Binge Eating Disorder?

Do you feel as though you lose control of yourself when you eat sometimes? Does it make you feel depressed? You may have a binge eating disorder.

About Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a condition in which people eat large amounts of food quickly on a regular basis. Usually, they feel uncomfortable afterwards because they have overeaten.

Binge eating disorder is not like other eating disorders. There is no purging or vomiting after eating such as in the case of bulimia. Those with this condition do not do it to lose weight. They seek to satisfy a need other than their fueling their body.

With this disorder, individuals gain a lot of weight quickly. This is why 50% of people with binge eating disorder are obese or overweight.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

It can be difficult to identify binge eating disorder because it’s much different from just overeating. Almost everyone eats more than intended at times. People who suffer from this condition do it often and suffer from mental and physical side effects.

The following are some of the symptoms of binge eating disorder:

  • They eat quicker than usual.
  • They eat until they cannot eat anymore.
  • They eat when they are not hungry.
  • They often eat alone because they are embarrassed by the quantity of food they are eating.
  • They feel depressed, disgusting and guilty when they are finished.

Approximately 2% of adults in the United States suffer from this disorder – that’s about 4 million Americans.

The Causes of the Condition

Research aren’t sure what causes binge eating, but they suspect it has to do with abnormal activity in many parts of the brain. From research on other eating disorders, they believe the causes may be similar to them.

Depression – Those who suffer from depression are often more susceptible to binge eating. They turn to food for comfort because they feel as though no one else is available to them, and food is always available.

Dieting – People who diet deprive themselves of foods, and then they overindulge themselves when they have the chance.

Genetics – There’s evidence binge eating disorder runs in families. Usually, more than one person in a family suffers from the condition. This could be because there are certain chemicals being produces in sufferers that cause them to seek large quantities of food.

Addiction – Many people who suffer from this disorder also have an addictive personality. They abuse alcohol, drugs, and gamble. They exhibit impulsive behavior, which is why they often can’t control how much they eat.

The Effects of This Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder leads to many mental and physical side effects.

  • They suffer from high stress levels because their eating is troublesome.
  • They have trouble sleeping at night because of anxiety and high levels of sugar and caffeine in what they eat.
  • They feel as though there is no hope for their uncontrollable eating and they dislike the way they look, so they contemplate suicide.
  • They don’t want to be seen by anyone, so they miss work and school.
  • They may prefer eating to going out with friends, or going to work or schools. This leads to depression and financial hardships.
  • Many people who suffer from this eating disorder end up with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, heart disease, some types of cancer, anxiety disorder, depression, or personality disorders.

Many people do not realize their eating is the problem. They blame the circumstances of their life on eating too much. Some people will learn they are suffering from a medical or mental health issue and not realize it’s the binge eating that has caused it. This is why it’s important to speak to a medical professional honestly about your eating habits.

Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

People do not have to live with this condition. Treatment is available from mental health professionals since a large part of the disorder has to do with how you think about food. Many people receive nutritional guidance and psychotherapy to combat their food habits. Those who suffer from depression or anxiety disorder may find help from antidepressants. Appetite suppressants are sometimes prescribed for those who really need it.

No one has to succumb to binge eating disorder. Help is available.