Exercise to prevent depression. We have talked before on this blog about exercise helping to relieve depression. But can exercise actually help prevent depression? Studies say yes! And with the beautiful spring weather we are having right now, what better time to start?
Exercise to Prevent Depression
For a long time now, mental health experts have recommended exercise as a way to help boost your mood. But new research suggests that regular exercise may actually prevent depression.
The main takeaway from JAMA Psychiatry shows this to be true. For JAMA’s study, researchers took data from 15 studies of over 190,000 adults who they followed for at least three years. Researchers tracked rates of depression and physical activity levels in study participants. They specifically compared those who did the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise with those who did not.
According to the study’s results, people who got at least a little over two hours per week of moderate-intensity exercise – including activities like biking, swimming, and brisk walking—had a 25% lower risk of depression compared to those who were inactive.
Those even doing half the recommended weekly amount had an effect. Those participants had their risk of depression lowered by 18%.
How can exercise help prevent depression?
Depression is commonly treated with a combination of talk therapy and antidepressants. However, exercise has also been suggested as a lifestyle therapy, says Paul Coleman, Psy.D., author of Finding Peace When Your Heart is in Pieces.
“Exercise creates endorphins which are feel-good chemicals in the brain,” he says. “Also, folks with depression begin to feel that nothing they do will help, so they become less active. Exercise is our way of telling ourselves ‘I can make a difference,’ which helps increase optimism.”
But actually, exercise does more than impact endorphins.
“Exercise can also affect serotonin, a mood neurotransmitter, and dopamine, a reward and motivation neurotransmitter,” says Gail Saltz, M.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio.
Including exercise as part of your lifestyle also “increases body blood flow,” and boosts the amount of oxygen to the brain, which supports the ability of the brain to grow and change, Dr. Saltz says.
Who can benefit from exercise as a way to prevent depression?
Sometimes, if you have physical limitations or a health condition that can make regular exercise difficult, Dr. Stowell has recommended checking in with your doctor first. But, generally speaking, he says, “this can really help people across all age spectrums.”
So, just do what you can.
“As this study showed, even 10 to 15 minutes per day of brisk walking was helpful for mood,” she says. “Most people can fit that in. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good—some walking is better than none, so doing nothing because you can’t run or work out for an hour is not the answer.”
You shouldn’t view exercise as the only way of preventing or treating depression, though. Eating well, sleeping regularly, and practicing self-care are also extremely helpful.
What if exercise isn’t enough?
Our therapists at Waters Edge Counseling are well-trained in helping treat depression across all age groups and genders. We work with our clients on specific ways to deal with depression – getting to the root of the problem and using coping skills to overcome those feelings. If you are struggling with depression, please give us a call at 912.319.5552 or email us. We are here to help.