It's common knowledge that depression can cause less enjoyment and interest in previously enjoyed activities. Recently, a study revealed that this mood disorder actually affects the function of certain areas of the brain responsible for enjoyment.

In the study published in NeuroReport, researchers observed the brain activity in 16 recently depressed people and 15 healthy people. The participants gave researchers a list of their favorite music, and also had to identify music that they didn't like or dislike--neutral music.

While they listened to the music for three minutes, a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner measured their brain neural activity. The results showed that the healthy participants had more brain activity in specific regions in their brain as they listened to their favorite music compared to the participants with depression.

In particular, certain brain regions associated with reward processing were less activated in the depressed participants. This particular result indicated that the most basic ability to enjoy activities does not function properly in people suffering from depression.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, a researcher who conducted the study at the Lawson Health Research Institute, the results may provide new ways to treat depression. Because anhedonia--a loss of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities--affects many depressed people, targeting the specific parts of the brain involved in experiencing pleasure may provide them with relief from this symptom.

An Instant Way to Boost Mood in Depression

While this study provides many people suffering from depression with hope, possible drugs or therapies to target the brain's pleasure center aren't available yet. In the meantime, there is one easily accessible way you can improve your mood and sense of enjoyment when you have depression--exercise.

Research shows that walking and other physical activity can relieve mild, moderate, and even severe cases of depression. Exercise influences neurotransmitters in the brain that help to regulate mood; antidepressants also act on these brain chemicals. It helps to increase positive thinking, and enables you to better cope with stress, which can contribute to depression.

One study showed that group-based exercise therapy was as effective as the antidepressant drug, Zoloft, at relieving the symptoms of major depression. People who performed exercises at home also experienced improvement in their depression, although less than those in the therapy group. By comparison, the antidepressant and exercise groups experienced better results than those in the group that took a placebo pill.

How Much Exercise Should You Get?

In the study, participants in the supervised exercise group worked out three times a week for four months. Forty-five percent had their symptoms go into remission so they no longer met the criteria for major depression.

Various health organizations, including the National Institutes of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control, advise exercising five days a week for at least 30 minutes for general health.

If you are trying to improve a condition such as depression, consider extending that amount to one hour a day five days a week. Include aerobic activity, strength training, and flexibility and relaxation exercises in your routine.


Lippincott, Williams and Williams press release, "Clinical Depression Causes Early Malfunctions in the Brain's Pleasure Center."

Psychosomatic Medicine, 2007, 69:587-596. "Exercise and Pharmacotherapy in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder." James A. Blumenthal et. al.