• According to a new study published in the journal Depression & Anxiety, those who are generally more physically active are about 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression.
  • Regularly exercising 35 to 45 minutes per day—even if depression runs in your family—can notably benefit your mental health.
  • While exercise may alleviate depression symptoms for some people—or even prevent them from occurring—talk with a doctor about treatment options if you are experiencing signs of depression or know you have a high risk.

If you have close relatives with chronic depression, your odds of developing the condition are about two to one. But that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable, especially if you’re establishing lifestyle habits that can help. Most notably, exercise can be a boon, new research suggests. Best of all, it doesn’t take much extra activity to lower your risk.

Using data from nearly 8,000 participants in the Partners Healthcare Biobank—a long-term research project that collects genetic and health information—researchers looked at two years of lifestyle habits, including physical activity and diagnoses related to depression, in a study published in the journal Depression & Anxiety.

They also calculated genetic risk scores for each participant, and found that those with higher genetic links to depression were more likely to be diagnosed with depression within the study timeframe.

However, those who were more physically active were 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression at the end of the two-year period. Those with the least amount of activity—about a half hour to an hour per week of exercise—had the highest levels of depression. But just a few more hours per week—an average of three hours, or around 35 to 45 minutes per day—saw considerable decreases in depression risk, and the more activity was reported, the lower those risks became.

All forms of activity—both high intensity and low intensity—counted as well, including running, other forms of aerobic exercise, strength training, dance, yoga, and stretching. This was true even after adjusting for factors such as prior depression, education, and employment status.

“Our findings suggest that when it comes to depression, genes are not destiny, and that being physically active has the potential to neutralize the added risk of future episodes in individuals who are genetically vulnerable,” lead study author Karmel Choi, Ph.D., clinical fellow in psychiatry at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital, told Runner’s World. She said that even without a genetic link, exercise could be protective for reducing depression risk.

The work of Choi and her colleagues adds to similar research—studies like this one, this one, and this one—that connects exercise to both prevention of depression and management of the condition.

[From training tips, to fueling strategies, to improving the mind-body connection, the Runner’s World 2020 Calendar will help you run your best all year long.]

In terms of why exercise is so effective, Choi said previous research suggests physical activity creates a number of benefits that affect brain health and emotional regulation, for example, by reducing inflammation, increasing positive hormones such as endorphins and dopamine, and improving sleep.

Keep in mind that while exercise may alleviate depression symptoms for some people—or even prevent onset to some degree—it’s not a mental-health panacea, and results may vary. If you have high risk of depression or are experiencing signs of the condition—such as ongoing lack of energy, sadness, anger, anxiety, or insomnia—talk with a doctor about treatment options.

Thank you for reading 🙂

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