More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Both exercise and antidepressants alleviate depression by stimulating neurogenesis
July 3, 2007

Research has shown that exercise has a similar effect to antidepressants on depression. Now Astrid Bj?rnebekk at Karolinska Institutet has found how this occurs: exercise stimulates the production of new brain cells.

In a series of studies, she searched for the underlying biological mechanisms to explain why exercise alleviates depression and then compared it to treatment with antidepressant drugs.

The experiments were conducted on 'Flinders Sensitive Line' rats which have a genetic susceptibility to depression. The results show that both exercise and antidepressants increase the formation of new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is important for memory, learning and emotion. Bj?rnebekk's studies confirm previous research results, and she proposes a model to explain how exercise can have an antidepressant effect in mild to moderately severe depression. Her study also shows that exercise is a very good adjunct to medications.

"What is interesting is that the effect of antidepressant therapy can be greatly strengthened by external environmental factors," she says.

Previous studies have shown that drug abusers have lowered levels of the dopamine D2 receptor in the brain's reward system. It has been speculated that this may be of significance to the depressive symptoms drug abusers often suffer from. These rat studies show that genetic factors may influence how external environmental factors can regulate levels of the dopamine D2 receptor in the brain.

"Different individuals may have differing sensitivity to how stress lowers dopamine D2 receptor levels, for example. This might be significant in explaining why certain individuals develop depression more readily than others," she says.

Bj?rnebekk A. On antidepressant effects of running and SSRI: Focus on hippocampus and striatal dopamine pathways. Karolinska Institutet 2007 Jun 15. [Abstract | Full text :acrobat:]


I guess knowing and doing are two different things.
I've tried convincing a certain person (who suffers from anxiety and depression), to try exercising - even offering to exercise with them.
But even though exercise can help, they refuse to try.
Sigh... very frustrating, but I guess that's the nature of the beast.

How do you convince somebody to exercise when it's the last thing they want to do?


I find that a good run or swim will aliviate a bout of depression a great deal. It does not cure it but it gives a measure of relife that is so worthwhile. I find hardest part is is starting out, its like I am unable to remember what the benifits felt like, like a loss of the emotional memory of pleasure. Once I get that little high, I am more inclined to do it again, but I must admit it really is hard to lake that leap of faith at first.
Exercise Guy, there a different forms of exercise, are you sure you have the right one for the person, some people will go for one type but not another.


Hi Pheonix,

I completely agree with you and thank you for your reply.

The hardest part is starting out and I applaud anybody who can push themselves to take that first step.
It's hard enough to find the inclination to exercise in a happy state of mind, never mind having to make such a decision when faced with anxiety or depression.
Perhaps you are right about the type of exercise that one may want to do, and I will certainly give that good consideration.

Though I suspect in my case, my suggestions of exercise may be interpreted as unwanted advice or me being controlling.
I try to choose my words carefully... but even that can backfire :)

Well, we do what we can to help ourselves and the ones we love.
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