Physical Activity and Exercise May Prevent Depression, Study Finds

Everyday exercise, regardless of intensity, can prevent the development of depressive symptoms.

Zenobia Morrill
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New data, collected by a team of researchers in Europe, demonstrate that engaging in physical activity or exercise prevents the onset of depression symptoms. The results, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, do not support similar preventative effects of exercise for anxiety symptoms.

“The results presented in this study provide a strong argument in favor of further exploration of exercise as a strategy for the prevention of depression,” the authors write.

Photo Credit: Stewart Chambers, Flickr

Past studies have detailed the “antidepressant effect” of exercise, finding it to be moderately effective in reducing symptoms. Less is known about the preventative effects, however, leading Dr. Samuel B. Harvey and his colleagues to explore the following questions:

  1. Does exercise protect against new-onset depression and anxiety?
  2. If so, what intensity and amount of exercise are required to gain protection?
  3. What causal mechanisms underlie an association between exercise and later depression and anxiety?

The study was conducted by tracking a cohort of 33,908 “healthy” adult participants over the course of 11 years and assessing their baseline and follow-up levels of depression, anxiety, and exercise engagement. A range of other details that could confound the effects of exercise on depression or anxiety were also gathered, including demographic components, substance use, and perceived social support. All data were assessed using validated measures.

Linear and logistic regression analyses were conducted, allowing the researchers to examine exercise levels at baseline in conjunction with the odds of later depression and anxiety onset. They found that higher levels of exercise at baseline corresponded to lower risk of developing depression symptoms. Those who reported engaging in no exercise at baseline were 44% more likely to develop case-level depression compared to individuals who were exercising 1-2 hours per week. Development of anxiety symptoms, however, were similar regardless of baseline exercise levels.

“In line with a priori predictions, those who engaged in less exercise at baseline tended to have a higher resting pulse, lower levels of perceived social support, and more subthreshold symptoms of depression and anxiety, and they were more likely to develop new-onset physical illnesses over the course of the study,” the authors write.

Harvey and researchers considered “reverse causation” in their model as well, accounting for cases in which anxiety or depression lead people to engage in less exercise rather than causation working in the opposite direction.

Additionally, they examined the relationships in conjunction with the data related to confounding factors. They found that levels of perceived social support, the onset of a physical illness, and symptoms of anxiety or depression that may have influenced lower levels of exercise (reverse causation) did account for some of the observed effects, but only a small proportion. By and large, the protective effect of exercise was unaccounted for by these other factors.

The researchers also observed that an exponential decay model fit better than a linear one, meaning that despite the preventative effects of exercise, beyond a certain threshold, as exercise increased, benefits decreased.

“Most of the protective effect of exercise is realized with relatively low levels of exercise, with no indication of any additional benefit beyond 1 hour of exercise each week.”

Moreover, the results demonstrated that more vigorous intensity exercise had no additional protective effects against future depression.

As for the causal mechanisms explored, the researchers put forth two hypotheses. The first, that the protective effects of exercise might be explained by confounding variables not measured in this study such as shared genetic factors, personality, or individual attitudes toward health. The other explanation explores how changes in self-esteem or serotonin release caused by physical activity may influence neurogenesis, or alterations in brain activity, particularly around areas of the brain associated with memory.

The researchers conclude that public health campaigns may be most effective if they encourage and facilitate everyday exercise activities, such as walking or biking, given levels of intensity do not influence the protective effect.

“Importantly, the majority of the protective effects of exercise against depression are realized within the first hour of exercise undertaken each week, which provides some clues regarding causation and has major implications for possible future public mental health campaigns.”

 

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Harvey, S. B., Øverland, S., Hatch, S. L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A., & Hotopf, M. (2017). Exercise and the prevention of depression: Results of the HUNT cohort study. American Journal of Psychiatry, appi-ajp. (Link)

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Zenobia Morrill
MIA-UMB News Team: Zenobia Morrill is a graduate of the dual master’s counseling psychology program at Columbia University. As a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she seeks to understand the context informing psychology research and the underlying social factors that influence individual psychology. She is currently involved in projects examining the impact of structural violence.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Exercise has many benefits, but when it comes to feeling depressed or anxious you have to consider what circumstances are contributing to feeling this way. If you are poor, being discriminated against and a victim of domestic violence I am not sure exercise is going to make you feel any better

    • Yes, the “mental health professionals” are still dismissing the “what happened to you” question, and it’s effects on “depression.” Personally, I avoided the “depression” part of my “safe smoking cessation med”/antidepressant created “bipolar,” with an hour of moderate exercise a day. One hour a week sounds pretty sedentary, although it’s not good for business for the medical community to be recommending healthy levels of exercise, I imagine.

      Once I was weaned off the anticholinergic toxidrome inducing “bipolar” drugs, I did a lot more exercise than that though. Because one does learn what the “mania” part of “bipolar” is all about when weaned off those horrendous “psychosis” inducing neurotoxic drugs. When one is “manic” one wakes up and dances for a couple hours, then goes on couple hour bike rides, then gardens, rehabs, and volunteers like a fiend. There’s tons of energy for productive endeavors when one is “manic.”

      I did not find being held against my will, inside a hospital, not allowed to see the light of day, not allowed to have my family and friends visit, while being “snowed” by this now FBI convicted lunatic to be helpful for “mania” (claimed to be a non-existent “chronic airway obstruction,” according to medical records) however.

      https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndil/pr/oak-brook-doctor-convicted-kickback-scheme-sacred-heart-hospital

      But Kuchipudi’s shtick was “snowing” people until they couldn’t breath, then performing unneeded tracheotomies on people for profit.

      Instead of illegally holding well insured “manic” people against their will in hospitals, and “snowing” them, in the hopes of performing unneeded surgeries. “Manic” people are much better off exercising – losing all that weight they gained while they were forced to take the extreme weight gain and diabetes inducing neuroleptics – and putting that increased energy to productive use, like gardening, rehabbing one’s home, volunteering, living one’s own life.

      Today’s iatrogenic illness creating medical community is really way too intrusive into other people’s lives. You should write an article about the need of today’s medical community to learn to “live and let live,” rather than continuing to create “mental illnesses” in people with the psychiatric drugs for profit. Merely so you may continue profiteering off of covering up the “elites'” satanic hobbies of raping massive numbers of children. Liz talked a little about these satanic “elite,” whose money you worship just yesterday. The bailout needing, fiscally irresponsible, war mongering and profiteering globalist satanic banksters you Holy Spirit blaspheming doctors worship, truly are sick individuals.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u82By9lLJ2c

      I will say, it is good the doctors are starting to be educated about the health benefits of exercise, though. Keep educating the doctors on common sense, since they apparently have none. Kuchipudi’s psychiatric partner in crime actually claimed she had a “test that proved” common sense was “millions of voices.” She had to be physically restrained by other doctors when I commented, “Wow, you’d think I’d know.”

      My other “mental health professionals” kept telling me to stop exercising. And they thought I wouldn’t notice they were insane? The delusions of grandeur of the “your entire life is a credible fictional story,” “all child abuse victims need psychiatric drugs” believing doctors, still staggers my mind.

      Get the “V Codes” reimbursable. So the “mental health professionals” may start actually helping child abuse victims, rather than merely misdiagnosing them with the other DSM disorders en mass, then creating the serious MI in them with the psych drugs for profit.

      Drugging up child abuse victims is the number one function of today’s “mental health professionals,” according to your own medical literature. Despite the fact all doctors are mandatory reporters. Now I understand why Jesus supposedly said “all the doctors are going to hell” during my 2009 drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic psychosis/awakening. “Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn you.” I’m no longer the only one appalled by our society’s pedophilia run amok problems.