Can Exercise Prevent Depression?
Can exercise prevent depression? The evidence is growing that physical activity can improve mental health — and even prevent depression. Every year, millions of adults struggle with a mental health condition. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 16 million people in the United States. Earlier this year, researchers at Harvard Medical School published the results of a study finding increased levels of physical activity were linked to a lower risk for depression.
The link between physical activity and overall well-being
Moderate-to-vigorous exercise has immediate and long-lasting mental health benefits. Physical activity can reduce anxiety, improve mood, and counter the negative effects of stress. The benefits of even a small increase in activity are surprising. Just going on a 15-minute walk or taking a one-hour yoga class is enough to reduce depression symptoms or lower the risk of developing symptoms in the first place.
“Our study looked at physical activity as a way to prevent depression,” said Karmel Choi, PhD, the author of the study. “But the good news from other research is that even if you are already feeling depressed, physical activity helps, too. … I would say: Start somewhere — remember that something is better than nothing at all.”
When starting to exercise, go slow
When starting any new exercise regimen, it’s important to start slow. Begin with short walks or stretching and build up your routine from there, adding more strenuous activities as your strength and endurance improve.
Don’t go it alone
Try exercising with others. Whether you go jogging with a friend, play basketball at the Y, or commit to a group exercise class, it’s easier to develop a healthy habit when others hold you accountable. Plus, you also get the mental health benefits of social connections when you workout with a buddy.
Some physical activity is better than none
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise a week. Ideally, physical activity should be spread out over the week with plenty of time to recover between workouts. Don’t have time to exercise? Consider breaking it down into smaller chunks. Ten-minute mini-workouts spread throughout the day are just as effective as one 30-minute continuous workout and can be easier to fit into your schedule.
It’s important to remember that any amount of movement is beneficial. Less time spent sitting, whether driving, sitting at a desk at work, or watching TV at home can have significant effects on both your physical and mental well-being.
Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program and if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or other mental illness.
Learn more about group exercise classes at your local YMCA in Pierce and Kitsap Counties: