Depression takes a physical and mental toll on the body and is reportedly the leading cause of disability worldwide. More than 300 million people around the world are said to be living with this disease.
Now researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States say that simply staying active will help offset some of the symptoms of depression. Previous studies have linked lifestyle changes, such as more exercise, to a decrease in cases of depression. But the new study is the first to suggest that an increase in physical activity can help significantly lower the risk of depression among individuals at low and medium risk, or those having a predisposition to depression.
Researchers behind the new study found that incorporating more physical activity — whether high-intensity dance, aerobic, or machine workouts, or more low-intensity yoga or walks — for 4 hours per week (or approximately 35 minutes per day) can help decrease the chances of depressive episodes by 17 percent.
To reveal the impact of physical activity on depression, researchers pulled the genomic and electronic health records of 8,000 patients enrolled in a healthcare program that collects patient data from partner hospitals for research. Participants provided blood samples and completed a brief survey, which included questions about their physical activity level.
Throughout the next 2 years, researchers also referenced millions of other health records to calculate genetic risk of depression and the impact of physical activity on the disease.Those with a higher risk of depressive episodes were more likely to be diagnosed within the two year period, yet, the individuals who were more physically active were less likely to show signs of depression.
The new study is the first to link exercise to an actual decrease in episodes of depression, even in individuals with a genetic predisposition to the condition. Even if someone has a family history of depression, researchers believe this study can give mental health and primary care providers a manageable recommendation other than medication to help lower the risk of the disease. Even if you go out for a walk for half an hour a day, you could see some benefits.
Some of the common symptoms of depression include poor appetite, poor sleep patterns, having negative ruminating thoughts, and poor energy levels. Exercise can help improve general physical well-being, sleep, appetite, and energy levels, thus helping recover from depression. Good physical health is connected with improving mental well-being and encouraging social interactions that help prevent social isolation, which is known to make depression worse.
Any form of low to high intensity activity works, such as swimming, walking, running, aerobic exercise, dancing, cycling, gardening, yoga, Pilates — even household chores that involve physical movement, such as climbing up and down stairs can help. If you drive everywhere, try walking instead to pick up your local newspaper or your carton of milk from your local shop. All are small, easy steps that go a long way in maintaining a healthy mind and body.
Exercise stimulates the brain to release neurochemicals like endorphins, also dubbed as the ‘happy hormone’, or the body’s natural painkiller and helps with stress relief and pain. It also helps prompt the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are also linked to feelings of well-being and happiness. Exercise also has other health benefits, such as weight reduction, regulating blood sugar, and it reduces the risk of heart disease.
And it is never too late to start getting more physical — whether in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or older. As long as you enjoy what you are doing, it may become part of your lifestyle and, ultimately, help you stay happier, longer. Overall remember, take it easy, take it slow, and do not be too hard on yourself; what is important is that you enjoy the physical activity.