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Twenty people out of 100 experience some form of depression during their lifetime. With this high prevalence, we need to better understand this often misunderstood disease. Low levels of essential chemicals necessary for brain cell function, such as serotonin, can result in depression. In addition to chemical imbalance, the brains of depressed people demonstrate decreased blood flow through the frontal lobe, further impairing normal brain activity.

Several lifestyle factors can worsen or improve the illness of depression. Nutrition is one factor. However, diet is not the only way to increase serotonin in the brain. Exercise raises brain serotonin and increases blood flow through the brain. Multiple research studies show exercise helps to reduce mild to moderate depression. Muscle movement (motor activity) increases the stimulation rate of serotonin neurons, increasing the release and synthesis of serotonin. Also, remember the brain cannot produce serotonin unless the protein tryptophan is available. Exercise increases the presence of tryptophan in the brain. The increased presence of tryptophan persists even after exercise is completed.

The most consistent effect of increased serotonin and increased blood flow through the brain is seen when regular exercise includes aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise requires the use of large muscle groups in a rhythmic motion, such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling. The recommended minimum length is 30 minutes at least three times a week.

Exposure to bright light is a second possible approach to increasing serotonin without drugs. Abundant evidence exists on the beneficial effect of bright light exposure in healthy individuals. There is an interaction between bright light and the serotonin system. A positive correlation exists between serotonin synthesis and the hours of sunlight. Since outdoor light is more intense than normal indoor light, 30 minutes being outdoors in the sunlight is recommended. Maybe you are concerned about the damage of the sun to the skin. However, to reap the benefits of sunlight, the only body part that needs to be exposed is the eyes. For example, you could sit on a patio or take a hike using protective clothing and still receive the benefits from sunlight.

Thoughts and Moods

Increasing evidence demonstrates what we choose to think about can also alter brain biochemistry. Numerous studies have shown that alterations in thought--such as self-induced mood changes, therapeutic counseling and meditation--can increase blood flow through the frontal lobe of the brain.

Happiness and well-being are important factors in protecting against mental and physical disorders. Recent studies have shown negative emotions were associated with increased incidence of depression. Positive emotions protected against depression.

A person’s mood also influences social relationships. positive emotions and agreebleness nurture social relationships with others, resulting in higher levels of social support. Low social support is associated with higher levels of stress and depression, as well as increased illnesses and death from many medical illnesses.

Let’s end this discussion on depression by putting all the lifestyle factors together into a spiritual package. Research has demonstrated an inner religious experience effective in recovery from depression. However, an external religious activity was not as effective.

Spiritual food for the brain through Scripture study, meditation and prayer should be taken on a regular basis with the inner convicted purpose of knowing God better. These daily spiritual exercises need to be done with a true inner desire, rather than just going through the forms of religion. Being exposed to the Light of the World will increase our self-worth and our sense of mission to others.

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By Dynnette Hart, Dr .P.h., R.N., and Bonnie Meyer, M.S, R.N.. Reprinted with permission from Pacific Union Recorder, December 2008. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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