Can running really make a difference in those who live with the Black Dog? Radhika Meganathan talks to consulting psychiatrist, Dr Shiva Prakash, an avid marathoner and cyclist
Depression is no longer a strange word, and from what recent studies reveal, it’s not even an adult condition anymore. World Health Organization (WHO) states that 350 million adults and a rising number of teens in the world suffer from depression. If this almost-epidemic disorder is so widespread, is it possible for a simple sport like running to combat it?
The answer is yes. Exercise has long been recommended as a supplementary treatment for depression and anxiety and addictions.
Anusha*, a 32 year old interior designer from Chennai, cites running as a godsend last year. “I was reeling from my husband’s infidelity and my divorce proceedings were extremely ugly. It was a traumatic period,” she says candidly. “I became withdrawn, isolated and prone to severe mood swings. My best friend begged me to be her running buddy, and I reluctantly agreed. To my surprise, I loved it… the training, the high, the goals, and especially meeting other marathoners in the gym that we work out. Running essentially brought me out of the shell I had built around myself.”
A disturbing statistic is that more women are affected by depression than men and it’s not surprising Anusha found running to be her savior from depression. Certain studies have concluded that “running is just as effective as psychotherapy in alleviating symptoms of depression.” We asked Dr Shiva Prakash, Chennai-based consultant psychiatrist and member of Schizophrenia Research Foundation (India), and he confirmed the results.
“Depression is not a visible or a socially accepted disorder, so the sufferer becomes isolated in act and thought, convinced that nobody believes or understands their agony. This brings down motivation, so they end up inactive and stagnant, which even more worsens their mental and physical health,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Finisher. “So when they take up an aerobic exercise like running, it causes positive neuro-chemical changes, including runner’s high that sends an immediate burst of endorphin’s, in their system, and they feel a sense of accomplishment and pleasure that ultimately helps them get out of the vicious cycle of depression.”
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK), exercise works to alleviate depression by:
- Influencing certain chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin which are used by brain cells to communicate with each other, affecting your mood and thought
- Stimulating brain derived neurotrophic factors, which are fundamental in new brain cell growth and development.
When you think about it, running does exactly that, lifts you from your depressive mood. It forces you to get out of a rut (or away from a depressive situation), to move your body, to meet other people if needed, and ultimately, to achieve a target. No matter how small that target is, once you achieve it, you are filled with satisfaction and sense of self-worth. “A mere 30 to 45 minutes of running every day can be a real mood booster,” affirms Dr Shiva Prakash.
Officially termed as a mental disorder, depression is the world’s leading cause of disability. It is certainly treatable, but mere sport or exercise cannot be the cure. Feeling lackluster, worthless, suicidal, isolated, low self esteem, excessive sleeping, excessive eating – If you feel you have been exhibiting these symptoms of depression for a long time, it is best to consult a medical professional immediately.