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A man riding his bike down a track surrounded by trees

New understandings into how exercise can lift mood in depression

August 22nd, 2019

There is increasing evidence that exercise can help symptoms of depression and lift mood, although the reasons have been uncertain. New research reveals that the body’s endocannabinoid system may play a role.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The ECS is a complex cell-signalling system identified in the early 1900s by researchers investigating THC, a well-known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis.

Experts are still trying to fully comprehend the ECS. So far, they know it plays a role in regulating a range of functions including:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Reproduction and fertility

Researchers suggest that a better understanding of the relationship between mood, exercise and the ECS could mean better treatments for depression.

The Study

The study investigated changes in mood & ECS levels in candidates with major depression who exercised at different intensities on a stationary bike. Researchers found a significant increase in ECS levels and improvement in mood after an exercise session of moderate intensity.

The journal authors conclude that the mood-enhancing effects of exercise likely include several biological mechanisms, of which the ECS is just one.

The author Jacob D. Meyer, PH.D an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University says; “ Finding alternatives to medication is important for the treatment of depression. If we can figure our how exercise works with the ECS, we could then design optimal exercise interventions”.

A significant result of this study was the long-lasting effect of moderate-intensity exercise. The rise in ECS levels appear to relate to mood improvements up to 30 minutes after the session.

Jacob D. Meyer PH.D concludes that “ these results show us that the effect of prescribed moderate-intensity exercise on mood is generally pretty quick and lasts for a while at a relatively sustained rate.”

If you are suffering with low moods or depression be sure to talk to your doctor for advice.

Further Reading
1.) Serum endocannabinoid and mood changes after exercise in major depressive disorder. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: September 2019 – Volume 51 – Issue 9 – p 1909–1917
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002006 :

2.) As imple guide to the endocannabinoid system:

3.) Depression, The World Health Organization:


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