In This Article
- In a study of over 600,000 adults, researchers found that while exercise can protect against depression, depression does not make people predisposed to exercise less
- Many people with depression struggle to exercise due to factors such as antidepressant side effects and difficulty in finding energy
- Though exercise cannot solve depression, it can reduce symptoms of depression
- People do not have to exercise a lot to improve their physical and mental health
Many people believe that working out is related to mental health. Does that mean exercise can prevent depression? Or are those with depression less inclined to exercise?
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In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry authored by Karmel Choi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, director of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, researchers evaluated genetic data from more than 600,000 adults and found evidence that physical activity likely plays a causal role in reducing depression risk.
The data included measures of each participant's:
- History of depression
- Symptoms of depression
- Amount of physical activity
By examining genetic markers, researchers found that people who were more likely to exercise were less likely to have depression. However, people who were more likely to develop depression were not less likely to exercise. Therefore, researchers believe that while exercise can help fight depression, depression does not make people less inclined to exercise.
Dr. Smoller states that physical activity may have many benefits both for your health and your risk of developing depression.
Despite this discovery, many people with depression struggle to exercise due to factors such as antidepressant side effects and difficulty in finding energy. Though exercise cannot solve depression, it can reduce symptoms of depression. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, which can change its structure. Exercise can also lead to the release of endorphins, which help boost mood.
People do not have to exercise a lot to improve their physical and mental health. Dr. Smoller suggests that as little as 15 minutes of running or walking briskly for an hour might be enough to make a difference. Dr. Choi says activities such as talking the stairs, washing dishes or doing laundry may have beneficial effects on depression.
Learn more the Psychiatric & Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit
Learn more about research at the Department of Psychiatry