Research has shown that exercising regularly for just a single hour a week can help prevent depression. The results of an analysis reveal that even a small amount of any intensity exercise can help to protect against depression and benefit mental health regardless of gender or age. The analysis involved 33,908 people who had their exercise levels and symptoms of anxiety and depression monitored over 11 years. The researchers determined that 12% of depression cases could have been prevented if the individuals had partaken in just 1 hour a week of physical activity.
It’s been known for a while now that exercise plays an important part in the treatment of depression symptoms, but this analysis quantifies the preventative potential of exercise with regards to reducing future depression levels. The results are noteworthy because they demonstrate that even a relatively small amount of exercise, from just an hour a week, can significantly protect against depression. Researchers are still determining precisely why exercise has this protective effect, but it’s believed to be due to a combination of the various physical as well as social benefits of exercise.
The study participants, who were in good health, were asked at baseline to report their exercise participation frequency and also at what intensity: exhausted, breathless and sweating, or not breathless and sweating. A self-report Anxiety and Depression Scale questionnaire was completed at follow-up stage to determine any emerging depression or anxiety. Variables were also accounted for which could have impacted the association between common mental illness and exercise, which included demographic and socio-economic factors, body mass index, substance use, perceived social support and new onset physical illness.
Results revealed that participants who reported no participation in exercise whatsoever at baseline had a 44% increased chance of depression in comparison to individuals who were exercising 1 to 2 hours each week. These benefits didn’t however continue to protect against anxiety, without any association identified between exercise intensity and level and the probability of developing the disorder. The majority of the mental health benefits derived from exercise are experienced within the 1st hour performed every week. With worldwide sedentary lifestyles increasing, and depression rates growing, the study results are especially relevant as they emphasize that a small lifestyle change can deliver considerable mental health benefits.