There’s new proof that the simple act of moving—such as running, taking a walk or spinning at the gym—not only helps you feel better physically, but can boost mental health too. In fact, as little as one hour a week of blood pumping exercise can actually ward off depression according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Conducted by Black Dog Institute in Sydney, Australia, the study, the largest of its kind, tracked exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety in 33,908 Norwegian adults over 11 years. Results showed that a minimum of one hour of exercise per week could have prevented roughly 12 percent of cases of depression.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 28 percent of Americans age 6 or older are considered physically inactive, while more than 80 percent of adults and adolescents don’t meet aerobic physical activity guidelines. And statistics show that about 10 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of depression.
When combined with existing studies demonstrating that exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medication in treating standard cases of depression, the increased benefits of physical activity are becoming indisputable.
“These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns,” says Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, lead author of the study who works with the Black Dog Institute and University of New South Wales. “If we can find ways to increase the population’s level of physical activity even by a small amount, then this is likely to bring substantial physical and mental health benefits.”
The study showed that those participants who did no exercise at all had a 44 percent greater likelihood of depression compared to those who reported exercising one to two hours per week. It should be noted that the benefits of exercise were not shown to protect against anxiety.
“With sedentary lifestyles becoming the norm worldwide, and rates of depression growing, these results are particularly pertinent as they highlight that even small lifestyle changes can reap significant mental health benefits,” Harvey says.
When you’re depressed, lacing up for a run may seem like an insurmountable task, but it’s just what you need. Enlist a friend to help get you out the door and seek the help of a medical professional to discuss treatment options. Just don’t be surprised if she prescribes a healthy sweat session.