Date of publication: 2017-08-24 11:38
In their role as green infrastructure, parks and open space are a community necessity. By planning and managing urban parks as parts of an interconnected green space system, cities can reduce flood control and stormwater management costs. Parks can also protect biological diversity and preserve essential ecological functions while serving as a place for recreation and civic engagement. They can even help shape urban form and reduce opposition to development, especially when planned in concert with other open spaces.
Starting out too hard in a new exercise program may be one of the reasons people disdain physical activity. When people exercise above their respiratory threshold — that is, above the point when it gets hard to talk — they postpone exercise's immediate mood boost by about 85 minutes, Otto says. For novices, that delay could turn them off of the treadmill for good. Given that, he recommends that workout neophytes start slowly, with a moderate exercise plan.
Looking deeper, Lehmann and his colleagues examined the mice's brains. In the stimulated mice, they found evidence of increased activity in a region called the infralimbic cortex, part of the brain's emotional processing circuit. Bullied mice that had been housed in spartan conditions had much less activity in that region. The infralimbic cortex appears to be a crucial component of the exercise effect. When Lehmann surgically cut off the region from the rest of the brain, the protective effects of exercise disappeared. Without a functioning infralimbic cortex, the environmentally enriched mice showed brain patterns and behavior similar to those of the mice who had been living in barebones cages.
It may take a longer course of exercise to alleviate mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, Smits adds. But the immediate effects are tangible — and psychologists are in a unique position to help people get moving. "We're experts in behavior change," he says. "We can help people become motivated to exercise."
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Therein lies the problem with prescribing exercise for mental health. Researchers don't yet have a handle on which types of exercise are most effective, how much is necessary, or even whether exercise works best in conjunction with other therapies.
Researchers are still working out the details of that action: how much exercise is needed, what mechanisms are behind the boost exercise brings, and why — despite all the benefits of physical activity — it's so hard to go for that morning jog. But as evidence piles up, the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.
Humans don't have an infralimbic cortex, but we do have a homologous region, known as cingulate area 75 or Brodmann area 75. And in fact, this region has been previously implicated in depression. Helen Mayberg, MD, a neurologist at Emory University, and colleagues successfully alleviated depression in several treatment-resistant patients by using deep-brain stimulation to send steady, low-voltage current into their area 75 regions ( Neuron , 7555). Lehmann's studies hint that exercise may ease depression by acting on this same bit of brain.
One group of mice, however, proved resilient to the stress. For three weeks before the social defeat treatment, all of the mice were subjected to two dramatically different living conditions. Some were confined to spartan cages, while others were treated to enriched environments with running wheels and tubes to explore. Unlike the mice in the bare-bones cages, bullied mice that had been housed in enriched environments showed no signs of rodent depression or anxiety after social defeat ( Journal of Neuroscience , 7566). "Exercise and mental enrichment are buffering how the brain is going to respond to future stressors," Lehmann says.
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The study also raised some intriguing questions, however. In men and women without family history of mental illness, as well as men with family history of mental illness, the higher-dose exercise treatment proved more effective. But among women with a family history of mental illness, the lower exercise dose actually appeared more beneficial. Family history and gender are moderating factors that need to be further explored, the researchers concluded.