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If exercise is good for someone whose emotional state is impaired, does it also have the property of preventing this condition? Beginning in 1965, Camacho and Associates, monitored and analyzed 8023 non-hospitalized adults older than 20 years of age. This data was compiled and analyzed again in 1974 and 1983. The analysis found that patients who reported a low activity level at the onset of testing were at a greater risk for depression compared to those patients who reported high levels of activity at baseline. Furthermore, the risk of depression can be altered by changes in exercise habits. In fact, it seemed that patients who were chronically inactive and probably at a higher risk for depression were not in an optimum state of basic physical health. The question is, does physical activity help to alleviate severe forms of depressive disorders? The answer is yes, in some cases the benefits associated with physical activity and depression seem to work very well.  This usually applies in most milder forms of depression.


A study conducted by Paffenbarger and Colleagues of Harvard Alumni, ages 35 to 74 years, in a 23-to 27-year time frame, found that 387 first attacks of depression among 10,201 alumni and 129 suicides among 21,569 alumni were apparent in those students who were less physically active. Suicide, however, was unrelated to physical activity but was substantially higher among men reporting personality traits that predicted increased rates of depression. After the probable suicide of Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:


Governor Lewis had, from early life, been subject to hypochondriac afflictions. It was a constitutional disposition in all the nearer branches of the family of his name, and was more immediately inherited by him from his father. They had not, however, been so strong as to give uneasiness to his family. While he lived with me in Washington, I observed at times, sensible depressions of mind, but knowing their constitutional source, I estimated their course by what I had seen in the family. During his Western Expedition, the constant exertion, which required all the faculties of body and mind, suspended these distressing afflictions; but after his establishment at St. Louis, in sedentary occupations, they returned upon him with redoubled vigor, and began seriously to alarm his friends.


In addition, running may possibly have a role in the prevention of cancers as a by-product of its beneficial effect on mood disorders. Shephard reviewed literature and found that occupational surveys and studies of recreational activity show an association between sedentary living and the risk of colon cancer. A more limited study suggests that a history of active leisure correlates with a reduced risk of all cancer,and in women, of breast and reproductive system cancers. It does, however, show an apparent increase in the risk of prostate cancer in active men. A study of five bereaved and severely depressed cancer patients with initial progression-free disease found that they had a tendency toward early onset of decreased natural killer cell activity and reduced binding affinity of B-endorphin to peripheral blood lymphocytes. In another study of cancer patients, plasma levels of B-endorphin and mood depression were inversely correlated in cancer patients faring well clinically.


In conclusion, physical activities may counteract possible day-to-day depressive disorders, leading to speculation that for a definable subgroup of cancer patients, physical activities raise endorphin levels and psychological well-being, both of which might modulate the activity of the immune-competent cells, leading to an extended period of progression-free disease. From all of the foregoing studies, it should be obvious that running (generic) helps certain types of mood disorders and tends to help prevent them. The recent mention of B-endorphin prompts the question, what are the psychological benefits of exercise? The reasons, however interesting, fascinating, or intriguing, perhaps are not yet as clear-cut as we would like them to be, but you be the judge.    


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