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Regular Exercise Can Prevent Depresson

Regular fitness routines are great for your body and mind, with even small amounts of exercise found to protect against depression. While fitness regimes are often promoted as a way to lose weight or gain muscle, according to a new study by the Black Dog Institute, there are also significant mental health benefits associated with physical activity. Just one hour of exercise each week was found to prevent future depression in some people, with the Black Dog Institute using these findings in its 'Exercise Your Mood' campaign which encourages people to improve their physical and mental well-being through exercise.

Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the results of this study highlight the importance of exercise in protecting against depression. In a highly detailed analysis that involved 33,908 Norwegian adults, mental health benefits were seen regardless of age or gender. After monitoring exercise levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety over a period of 11 years, the international research team found that 12 percent of depression cases could be prevented with just one hour of physical activity each week. While links between fitness and depression were clear, the benefits of regular exercise did not carry through to anxiety disorders, where no association was found.

Researchers used data from the HUNT study in Norway - one of the largest and most comprehensive population-based health surveys ever undertaken. Healthy participants were asked to report the frequency and intensity of exercise they participated in without becoming breathless or exhausting themselves, with a second self-report questionnaire completed during the follow-up stage to indicate any emerging anxiety or depression. After accounting for variables which might impact the association between exercise and common mental illness, including socio-economic and demographic factors, researchers found that people who reported doing no exercise at all had a 44 percent increased chance of developing depression compared to those who were exercising one to two hours a week. 

According to Samuel Harvey, Associate Professor from Black Dog Institute and UNSW and lead author of the study, "We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventative potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression... These findings are exciting because they show that even relatively small amounts of exercise - from one hour per week - can deliver significant protection against depression... These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns. If we can find ways to increase the population's level of physical activity even by a small amount, then this is likely to bring substantial physical and mental health benefits."

While the results of the study were clear, the team behind the research are still uncertain why exercise has such a huge effect on mental health outcomes. "We are still trying to determine exactly why exercise can have this protective effect," said Mr Harvey, adding "but we believe it is from the combined impact of the various physical and social benefits of physical activity." One thing is clear though - regular exercise can play an important role in the treatment of depression and other mental health problems, both as a preventative measure and a form of complementary therapy. 

Image source: Click Images/Shutterstock

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