According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 350 million people suffer from depression at any one time. If you’re one of them, then you know how debilitating this condition can be. It can make the sunniest of days feel dark and gray, sending you in search of comfort via food or sleep. Some even contemplate using drugs or alcohol to ease the pain.
Fortunately, research shows that you have another option when you’re feeling blue—one that is good for you at the same time. What is this happiness-inducing alternative? It is exercise, and it’s probably not for the reasons that you think.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the effects of exercise on mood; however, most look at how being physically active increases your feel-good hormones. But one new bit of research published in Cell, a journal that has been publishing biomedical research and reviews since 1974, took a different approach.
Specifically, researchers looked at a protein called PGC-1a1, which is found in raised levels in your muscles when you engage in regular physical activity. Using mice, researchers were able to determine that those with higher amounts of PGC-1a1 also had fewer signs of depression, even when subjected to an environment that created stress in “normal” mice.
Highly developed muscles were determined to be as essential to increasing happiness as your liver and kidney are to removing toxic substances from your body. This is due to the PGC-1a1 that your muscles produce, which improves your mood. As a side note, researchers also found that people with higher levels of PGC-1a1 had increased levels of enzymes that help protect the brain from the effects of stress.
Therefore, if you want to improve your mood, you’ll benefit greatly from getting regular exercise and building your muscles so that your body produces more PGC-1a1. Do this one thing and your skies will be sunny and blue, even when they’re not.