With the colder months coming on, it is not uncommon for many individuals to begin to feel symptoms of sadness that linger for more than just a few hours.
According to a recent study conducted on just under 33,400 people over an 11 year period, results showed that individuals who exercised a minimum of a single hour a week showed lower signs of depression than those who did little to no exercise.
“Undertaking regular leisure-time exercise was associated with reduced incidence of future depression but not anxiety.” said doctors Samuel Harvey and Simon Wessely, members of the team that conducted the 11 year long study. “The majority of this protective effect occurred at low levels of exercise and was observed regardless of intensity.”
Although it is no surprise that exercise is a safeguard against the symptoms of depression, it is new information that only a single hour a week of elevated movement, regardless of specific activity or intensity, is enough to protect against the clinging negative emotions that are synonymous with depression.
How It Works
The question, however, remains: “How does getting out and moving help with depression, exactly?”
The answer, in its simplest form, is that it's an activity that gets your mind distracted --and it also forces hormones associated with joy to activate in your brain and body.
Endorphin's as the body's natural painkillers
When you exercise, you are putting a great deal of effort into something other than your thoughts and emotions.
If you are running, you are being mindful of your balance, your pace, of any aches or possible pains that may pop up, even the path underneath your feet. You are involving yourself in an activity that is immersive and distracting --for the better.
Besides that, in those times when you are moving and exercising at your hardest, an endorphin rush (which also act as natural painkillers) takes over your body and bombards your brain with positive-emotion-bearing chemicals, often referred to as “feel good” hormones. These chemicals also leave you with a refreshed feeling once you are done with your exercise.
“[E]xercise appears to be an effective treatment for depression, improving depressive symptoms to a comparable extent as pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Observational studies suggest that active people are less likely to be depressed, and interventional studies suggest that exercise is beneficial in reducing depression” say researchers Blumenthal, Hoffman and Smith, authors of the 2012 study Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?. “While the optimal ‘dose’ of exercise is unknown, clearly any exercise is better than no exercise. Getting patients to initiate exercise ---and sustain it – is critical.”
Depression affects roughly 9.5% of the U.S. adult population each year, and it is estimated that approximately 17% of the U.S. population will suffer from a major depressive episode at some point in their lifetime.
So for those suffering from symptoms of depression, which roots itself in both external stimuli as well as chemical imbalances, getting out and getting your heart rate up is a solid step towards healing, or at least an aid in coping. For those who do not suffer from signs of depression but are possibly worried they one day might be --exercise is a great method of prevention.
Harvey, Samuel B., et al. “Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 2017.
Blumenthal, James A., Patrick J. Smith, and Benson M. Hoffman. “Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?” ACSM’s health & fitness journal . 2012.
Craft, Lynette L., and Frank M. Perna. “The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed.” Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2004.
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 "Just One Hour Of Exercise A Week May Help Prevent Depression." Time. N. p., 2018. Web. 23 Mar. 2018.
 Warburton, Darren E.R., Crystal Whitney Nicol, and Shannon S.D. Bredin. “Health Benefits of Physical Activity: The Evidence.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal 174.6 (2006): 801–809. PMC. Web. 23 Mar. 2018.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.