Our brain is exquisitely designed to respond and adapt to every experience we will ever have; every thought, emotion, action, perception, all of it leaves an impact on our brain. For example, the way we use our body provides us with different stimulation, and hence a different experience. This simple insight can completely reshape our intuition about mental illness and chemical imbalances within our body.
With our daily lifestyle of work nowadays, we usually spend most of our time just seated down, and that is a problem because, as we might have already heard:
“Sitting is the new smoking of our generation.”
Physical inactivity does not just take a toll on our hearts, our lungs, and our fat cells. It also takes a toll on our brain.
When we are physically active, essential circuits in our brain will utilize neurotransmitters like dopamine, glutamine, and serotonin to excites our brain, enhancing our energy, mood, and motivation.
It is one of the primary reasons why exercise is proven to be a potent antidepressant.
There are two landmark clinical trials at Duke University, where researchers compare the efficacy of exercise to Zoloft, an antidepressant medication, in the treatment of depression. They found that 30 minutes of brisk walking, three times a week, is every bit as effective as the medication in fighting clinical depression! Moreover, then when the researchers revisited those same patients one year later, they found the patients who had kept on exercising, those were the ones that were most likely to stay well, they didn’t see the similar protective benefits of just staying on medication. It turns out exercise also enhances our cognitive function; it improves memory, attention, mental clarity, it even helps to keep our brain young by triggering the growth of new brain cells,
To put it simply,
“Exercise is medicine.”
To put this into another perspective, if a pharmaceutical company could somehow capture the neurochemical benefits of exercise, manufacture it in a pill and sell it to the public, they would do it in a heartbeat!
They would finally have a blockbuster drug utterly free of any problematic side effects of medications, like weight loss or weight gain, sedation, emotional blunting, loss of libido and much more.
Imagine if we were to be sitting in a darkened room, what happens if we were to get up, walk outside, and bask in sunlight?
The instant we step outside, specialized receptors in our retina, at the back of the eye, they would kick off an avalanche of neurological activity. These receptors have a broadband connection to body clock circuitry buried deep inside the brain. These are circuits that regulate our sleep, appetite, arousal, and hormonal levels.
Sunlight deprivation may cause a decrease of serotonin-based signaling and the disruption of these circuits in our brain, hence amplifying the severity of depression.
UVB rays are the triggers for essential vitamin D production in our bodies. UVB rays can penetrate the epidermis, the upper layers of our skin. UVA rays, on the other hand, penetrate more deeply into the basal section of the dermis, which is where most skin cancer develops. Excessive UVA exposure also associated with wrinkling, immune suppression, oxidative stress, and related aging.
When we’re outside in direct sunlight, our bodies absorb both rays. Although we expose ourselves to the more damaging UVA rays, research shows that our concurrent exposure to UVB – and the subsequent vitamin D production – actually serves to counteract skin damage and inflammation.
When we are sitting in front of a window, however, the exposure is different; glass blocks the shorter-wave UVB rays while allowing most of the longer UVA rays to pass through (2). In short, we’re receiving the more damaging rays without the standard protective benefit of vitamin D production. Unfortunately, this is especially true for us Singaporeans, where most of us stay and work inside of the office from 9 to 5, behind the window, which indirectly jeopardizes our mental well-being, decreases our bone density and also our general health.
Steve Ilardi, a clinical researcher in improving treatment for mental illness, has stated that 1 in every 5 Americans consumes a psychiatric drug every single day, which signify a 300% increase in anti-depressive drugs usage but with no corresponding decrease in the cases of depression in the past 20 years! (1)
Steve believes that the answer is directly linked to our brain experience of a sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially isolated, and fast food burdened modern pace lifestyle.
Experience changes the brain, and with better, proper functioning spine, we will have a better, suitable functioning nervous system, hence ensuring a better quality of life.
References: 1. Ilardi, S.S. (2009) The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs. Retrieved from http://books.google.com. 2. Sivamani, R.K., Crane, L.A., Dellavallee, R.P., The benefits and risks of ultraviolet (UV) tanning and its alternatives: the role of prudent sun exposure. Dermatol Clin. 27 (2): 149. –vi. doi:10.1016/j.det.2008.11.008.