Dr. McKinnon Discusses Mood Disorders, Exercise and the Brain at AGM

Exercise could be a safer and potentially more effective treatment than anti-depressants for individuals who suffer from depression.
That’s the opinion of Dr. Margaret McKinnon of St. Joseph’s Healthcare and McMaster University.

She was speaking at the annual general meeting in March for CameronHelps, a charity dedicated to reducing teen suicide in Canada. McMaster and St. Joseph’s is teaming up with the charity to do further research on the impact of exercise on youth.

Studies show that the secretive protein BDNF is not as prevalent in those who suffer from mood disorders. This can affect the area of the brain called the hippocampus and have implications on people suffering from chronic depression.

Dr.McKinnon said that extensive pre-clinical studies on the effects of exercise on BDNF and neurogenesis in animal models have shown exercise has an impact in raising levels of  this important protein. A study of 13 sedentary adolescents with an average age of 19 was conducted to determine the impact of aerobic exercise over a six-week period. Exercise led to a specific improvement in neurogenesis-dependent cognitive tasks and increased blood flow to the hippocampus, she noted.

Mood disorders impair individuals in many different ways such as mental, interpersonal, time management, output and physical tasks, Dr. McKinnon says. Their cognitive function is affected in such areas as learning, remembering, and problem solving. Some areas of the brain are particularly vulnerable to patients with major depression disorders, she said.

In one 2010 study, both depressed and a high risk group of individuals had smaller left and right hippocampal volumes than a control group. This makes them vulnerable to distraction and makes it hard for them to process information quickly, Dr. McKinnon said.

Other research shows that exercise in youth can improve their cognitive mental processes. One particular study found that increased time spent on a break (recess) was associated with improved classroom behaviour, including children’s attention and concentration, she said.

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