It’s not all happening in our heads

Throughout the semester, we’ve talked about many different instances of how our experiences influence who we are.  As Jess said in her post, if there is one thing I’ve learned from the Synaptic Self, it is that we are our synapses.  Everything we do influences our synapses in one way or another, and this is reflected in who we are.  In the chapter of Synaptic Self that we discussed today in class, LeDoux discussed how our understandings of disorders like depression and schizophrenia have grown in complexity since the early days of treatment in the 1930’s.  We know now that many different aspects of our brain circuitry are involved in depression.  With this in mind, I came across a recent article from the New York Times about depression and exercise.  As you may know, exercise can be helpful in treating depression because it seems to alleviate symptoms.  It turns out that exercise can increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus, just as anti-depressants do.

The New York Times article looked at the depression-exercise relationship from the other side.  If exercise influences depression, does depression influence exercise in any way?  It turns out that depression does influence the way our bodies respond during exercise.  Specifically, depression prolongs the time it takes for the heart to return to a normal rate after exercise.  This finding helps explain a link between depression and heart-disease, where people who are depressed have more heart-attacks than people without depression, and people with heart disease who are later diagnosed with depression tend to die earlier than their non-depressed counterparts.  Depression probably prolongs the return to a normal heart rate because of dysfunction in the stress-response system of the brain. (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/depression-may-slow-exercise-recovery/?ref=health)

I wanted to share this article because I think it demonstrates a lot of what I have learned in our class this semester.  We have discussed at great lengths how our experiences shape our selves, via synaptic changes.  Every single thing we do has some effect, large or small, on our synapses, and this is how we become the person we are at each second.  However, our synapses and brain also change the way that we experience things, on a conscious or unconscious level.  And, psychological experiences can influence the rest of our bodies, just as changes in the rest of our bodies influence our brains.  Depression changes the way our brains act, but it also changes the way our bodies act.  On the other hand, changes in our body, like exercise, change our brains and therefore depression.  This shows how incredibly complex our entire bodies are.  At the root of this complexity is our brain, which is why I started this post by saying that we are our synapses.  Even though this seems simplistic, they really are at the root of everything.

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3 thoughts on “It’s not all happening in our heads

  1. I’ve definitely known exercise as a treatment method for depression, but I guess I have never thought of the reverse perspective, very cool.

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  2. KK, this is a great post. I had no idea that depression could affect the heart during exercise. The article definitely speaks to how complex we are!

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  3. I think this also speaks to how limited treatment of depression and other mood disorders can be. Since depression, which definitely is correlated with a decrease in monoamine secretion, has been found to impact our hearts, our immune systems, in addition to our work and social lives, it seems incomprehensible that a pill like a SSRI or a tricyclic antidepressant could solve all of these issues.

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