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Physical activity reduces depression risk in adults, study finds

By Brian Dunleavy
Engaging in recommended amounts of physical activity appears to reduce the risk for depression in adults, according to a new study. File photo by Image Point Fr//Shutterstock
Engaging in recommended amounts of physical activity appears to reduce the risk for depression in adults, according to a new study. File photo by Image Point Fr//Shutterstock

April 13 (UPI) -- Adults who engage in recommended levels of physical activity are less likely to develop depression, an analysis published Wednesday found.

In the review of data from 15 studies that collectively enrolled nearly 20,000 participants age 18 years and older, those who met recommended physical activity levels were about 25% less likely to experience symptoms of depression, the data, published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry, showed.

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However, participating in more physical activity, beyond recommended levels, appeared to have "diminishing potential benefits," the researchers said.

"Any exercise is good, even a few minutes walking per day might help," study co-author James Woodcock told UPI in an email.

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"The best exercise is going to be the one you actually do," said Woodcock, a professor of transport and health modeling at the University of Cambridge in England.

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities, according to the Mayo Clinic.

About 21 million adults in the United States will experience at least one depressive episode in their lifetimes, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates.

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Previous studies have found that exercise can help reduce the effects of depression and anxiety, which is a related disorder.

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However, with many cutting back on exercise time during the pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression have risen national, research suggests.

For this analysis, researchers used data from 15 previously published studies that assessed depression risk among adults who engaged in varying levels of activities.

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The threshold for physical activity was based on World Health Organization guidelines for adults, which recommend 8.8 marginal metabolic equivalent task hours per week.

Marginal metabolic equivalent task hours measure physical activity based on body mass-adjusted energy expenditure, with 0 being awake and at rest and 2.5 equating to walking, according to the Integrated Transport and Health Impact Model.

Engaging in the WHO's recommended amount of physical activity reduced adults' risk for depression by 25%, the data showed.

Adults who engaged in half of the WHO's recommended amount of physical activity, 4.4 marginal metabolic equivalent task hours per week, lowered their risk for depression by 18%, the researchers said.

"We don't know for sure how exercise works to reduce the risk of depression, but we know it helps," Woodcock said.

"There might be more benefits from exercising in green space compared with in the gym, but we don't know that for sure," he said.

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