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Leisure Time Physical Activity Reduces Depression Risk, Study

First Posted: Oct 16, 2014 05:32 AM EDT

A study reports that being physically active for at least three times per week lowers the risk of depression by almost 16 percent.

Depression is a mood disorder that is estimated to affect nearly 19 million American adults. This mental illness is known to affect the patient's thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being. It causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. When someone has depression, exercising is the last thing the person would want to do.

But researchers at the University College of London found that depression can be helped by regular exercise. They found that being physically active three times a week lowers the odds of being depressed by almost 16 percent. This study identified a two-way association between depression and physical activity. Those who increased their weekly activity experienced lesser depressive symptoms. But, the people with more depressive symptoms remained less active, especially the younger ones.

They based their finding on the analysis on 11,135 people who were born in 1958 and were of age 50. They recorded the depressive symptoms as well as levels of physical activity at regular intervals in adulthood. They noticed that each additional activity session per week lowered the risk of depression by almost 6 percent.

Through this study, the researchers suggest that physical activity helps to significantly boost mental as well as physical health.

"Assuming the association is causal, leisure time physical activity has a protective effect against depression. If an adult between their twenties and forties who isn't physically active became active 3 times per week, they would reduce their risk of depression by approximately 16 percent," said Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira of the UCL Institute of Child Health, lead author of the study. "Importantly, this effect was seen across the whole population and not just in those at high risk of clinical depression. The more physically active people were, the fewer depressive symptoms they reported. Just as someone might be a little overweight but not clinically overweight or obese, many people who are not clinically depressed could still experience some depressive symptoms."

In order to assess the depressive symptoms, the researchers focused at the responses of the participants they gave in the Malaise Inventory, a questionnaire that was designed to assess the psychological distress at age 22, 33, 42 and 50. Apart from this, they were even asked how often they were physically active. The association between the two factors was examined over the age range.

The researchers showed that those who reported more depressive symptoms at age 23 remained less physically active, but this effect weakened as they grew older.

"There is some evidence to suggest that activity can be used as a treatment for depression, but our study goes beyond examining the depressed group and suggests a benefit of activity to curb depressive symptoms in the general population," said senior author Chris Power, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the UCL Institute of Child Health. "If everyone was physically active at least three times a week we would expect to see a drop in depression risk, not to mention the benefits for physical health, as pointed out by other research, including reduced obesity, heart disease and diabetes risk."

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