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Just one hour of exercise per week can beat depression, study finds

04 October 2017

The study, which is the largest analysis of its kind, involved 33,908 healthy participants who had their exercise levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety assessed over an 11-year period.

"We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression", says lead researcher, psychiatrist Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute and the University of New South Wales in Australia.

An global team of Researchers observed more than 30,000 people and found that 12 percent of cases of depression could have been prevented if each week participants began one hour of exercise.

Previous research has suggested that exercise can help in treating the symptoms of mild depression, with the evidence strong enough, and the potential downsides of exercise so minimal, that many Global Positioning System prescribe physical activity as a treatment.

A large global team of researchers from the UK, Australia, and Norway looked at data from a huge Norwegian population health survey called HUNT, conducted between 1984 and 1997. Exercise and the prevention of depression: results of the HUNT cohort study [published online October 3, 2017].

Researchers are still trying to determine why exercise has a protective effect. People seemed to have mental health benefits from physical activity regardless of whether they reported working out to the point of exhaustion or barely breaking a sweat.

At follow-up stage, they completed a self-report questionnaire to indicate any emerging anxiety or depression.

"Relatively modest changes in population levels of exercise may have important public mental health benefits and prevent a substantial number of new cases of depression", the study concluded.

The research team also accounted for variables which might impact the association between exercise and common mental illness. Just an hour of workout could lower chances of depression by 12%. It was also found that people who did not exercise at all in the beginning of the study were 44% more likely to develop depression.

Most of this protective effect occurred at low levels of exercise and was seen irrespective of intensity.

The research team found that 12 percent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just one hour of physical activity every week.

"Most of the mental health benefits of exercise are realised within the first hour undertaken each week", said Associate Professor Harvey.

Just one hour of exercise per week can beat depression, study finds