Already known to help ease depression, regular exercise may also help prevent it, with people who exercised just half the recommended weekly amount lowering their risk for depression by 18 percent, according to research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. However, those who were more active, meeting at least the minimum recommended physical activity level, reduced their risk for depression by 25 percent, compared with inactive people.
The findings stem from the analysis of data from 15 studies, involving 191,130 adults who were tracked for at least three years. Those who met activity guidelines did at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, as recommended in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Mental health experts note that nearly 10 percent of American adults struggle with some form of depression each year. Antidepressant medication and talk therapy are commonly prescribed treatments, but exercise is also considered an effective treatment. Exercise sparks the brain’s release of endorphins, sometimes referred to as feel-good hormones. It can also quiet the mind, quelling the cycle of negative thoughts that often accompany depression, and can help reduce stress, improve sleep and boost self-esteem. Urging doctors to encourage their patients to increase their physical activity, the researchers wrote that the study’s findings suggest “significant mental health benefits from being physically active, even at levels below the public health recommendations.” If less-active participants in the study had exercised more, they say, 11.5 percent of depression cases could have been prevented.
This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.