Neuroscience and sport

Physical activity is crucial for a healthy brain. Interestingly, several studies have shown that exercise can contribute to both treating and preventing in mental disorders depression and dementia. But also in healthy individuals physical activity is crucial for well-being.  Exercise can elevate mood, self-esteem, and a sense of achievement. Being part of a sports association can raise communal feeling and interpersonal relationships. Together all these things promote a well-functioning brain.

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Participating in regular exercise has been linked to increased expression of trophic factors. What does that mean? Trophic factors are molecules in the brain that are important for brain development. As such, they are important for generating new neurons (neurogenesis), new blood vessels (angiogenesis), and new and stronger connections between neurons (synaptic plasticity).

Also, exercise, particularly strength training activates the  hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This is the circuit that relates to stress. Exercise induces a controled amount of low stress. Regular activity trains the HPA axis and makes you more resistant to actual stress over which you do not have any control.


Physical activity and mental health

In an ever faster and stress-inducing world, finding new ways to provide mental health care is important. Drug therapries can be beneficial, but have their own set of disadvantages. And not everyone can get cognitive-behavioral therapy. This is why I promote brain stimulation methods as potential future tools to prevent and cure psychiatric disorders (read more in the Brain Stimulation Therapy section).

However, we should not forget about the oldest trick in the book. Physical exercise can have positive effects on mental disorders that are comparable to drug, psychological and brain stimulation interventions. See the overview on the left, that is provided by Prof. Dennis Schutter. And, it is certainly the cheapest! So, care for your body and your mind, by staying fit!

Treatment for depression