Author Kelly Lambert
Scientific American Mind August/September 2008
The article Depressingly Easy, taken from the book Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands on Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power by Kelly Lambert, explores the connection between the increasing rates of depression and the decrease in physical activity of modern day people. Lambert questions if there is a treatment for depression that does not involve psychotropics which may be as simple as engaging in more physical actions. Substantiating this hypothesis, Lambert presents some interesting paradoxes. For instance statistics show an increase in depression rates at the same time as the increase in availability of time saving conveniences such as microwaves, washing machines, and computers; whereas previous generations enjoyed better mental health despite more difficult daily living conditions.
Lambert goes on to discuss the programming of the brain as it relates to derivation of satisfaction and pleasure. Calling this type of emotional reward “effort driven rewards,” she explains that this phenomenon is essentially natures way of encouraging people to maintain the physical activity that is needed to support life (i.e. finding food, protection, and propagation of the species). In her theory, movement plays an important part in how “effort driven rewards” help avert and build resistance against mood disorders.
The area of the brain that serves as the reward center, the nucleus acumbens, performs an important part in the derivation of “effort driven rewards” is in close proximity to the brain’s motor system. These two systems are also reach to the prefrontal cortex, an area that is in charge of problem solving, decision making, and planning. Lambert hypothesizes that this system of brain networks is very closely associated with depression and that every symptom of this disorder can be associated with a part of this brain system.
Lambert concludes by stating that the composition of our nervous system remains the same as that of our ancestors but in the modern age we use our brains and hands differently. We have become more service oriented rather than employed in physical labor. Based on her research, Lambert suggests that people can help guard against depression by engaging in physical activities that are helpful to mental health, from something as simple as knitting to exercising in the park.