Exercise reduces the risk of depression

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Exercise and depression

Physical activity reduces the probability of depression. This is a conclusion based on numerous studies. A group of scientists recently tried to figure out just how little exercise makes a difference.

A group from the University of Cambridge analyzed the findings of 15 studies and discovered that the benefits begin to appear at about half of the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum for weekly physical activity, and the benefits do not increase significantly once you reach the full amount (yet another reason to avoid CrossFit if you don’t want to).

Exercise reduces the risk of depression
Exercise reduces the risk of depression

Science in action 

The researchers combined 15 previous studies in which participants’ activities and health outcomes were evaluated for an average of 8.5 years and published their findings in JAMA Psychiatry this month. The meta-analysis includes data from 191,130 persons in total.

Longevity Hacks is a recurring series from Inverse that focuses on science-backed methods for living better, healthier, and longer without the use of medication. More can be found in our Hacks section.

The researchers who completed the original study examined incidents of depression by a diagnosis of depressive symptoms. The researchers used a measurement termed marginal metabolic equivalent task hours to measure exercise.

A metabolic equivalent (MET) minute is the amount of energy expended during one minute of any activity, represented as a percentage of the total energy expended

An activity volume equivalent to 2.5 hours of brisk walking  per week was associated with 25 percent lower risk of depression.

Kinesiologists have MET scores for a wide range of activities, which are kept in our convenient MET calculator. For a 160-pound person, one minute of:

  • Bicycling is 7.5 MET minutes
  • Salsa dancing is 4.5 MET minutes
  • Cleaning windows is 3.2 MET minutes
  • Playing the guitar (while standing) is 3 MET minutes
  • Walking at a moderate pace of about three miles an hour is 3.5 MET minutes
  • Running at eight miles an hour is 11.8 MET minutes
  • Coal mining is 5.5 MET minutes

An error occurred during the translation of the weekly exercise records into MET time, as reported in this study. MET minutes and MET-hours measure the amount of time spent performing an activity. They relied on self-reports, which naturally had some pauses and gaps in the data collection. If you spent an hour playing basketball (6.5 MET minutes), you probably didn’t deduct the time spent huddling, getting a Gatorade, or waiting for a teammate to retrieve a thrown ball from a neighbor’s yard.

MET-hours for each activity were reduced by around 12 percent, resulting in marginal metabolic equivalent task hours, as a result of the researchers’ new idea.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), healthy persons under the age of 65 should exercise for at least 600 minutes each week or 10 MET-hours.

People who received only half that amount were found to have a lower risk of depression. People who reported 4.4 marginal MET hours a week had an 18 percent lower risk of developing depression compared to adults who did not record any exercise, according to the results of all those studies.

Those who met the W.H.O. recommendation of 8.8 marginal MET hours a week experienced a 25% reduction in risk, but there were no additional benefits beyond that.

To put it another way, as the researchers put it:

Compared to no activity, those who accumulated 2.5 hours of brisk walking per week had a 25% lower risk of depression, while those who accumulated half that amount had an 18% lower risk. Higher levels of physical activity provided only marginally more advantages.

Why its a hack?

The researchers looked into a few possible explanations as to why such low-intensity exercise had a positive effect.

  • Endorphins and other brain chemicals are released during physical activity. Some previous research found that moderate exercise elicited neuroendocrine and inflammatory responses in less than 60 minutes, with no higher responses from these systems as the exercise time increased.
  • Exercise’s ability to reduce depression may be at least in part due to changes in self-perception and socializing.
  • People often work out in nature, which is another way to combat depression, but more MET minutes does not necessarily mean more time in the great outdoors.
  • Exercising, on the other hand, removes them from their noisy and solitary indoor environs.

How does this affect the longevity?  

Depressive disorders are the major cause of mental health-related illness burden worldwide, impacting an estimated 280 million individuals. It has been linked to an increased risk of death from a wide range of illnesses.

As a result, those who engage in regular exercise regimens are less prone to developing depressive symptoms. It’s possible that some of this is due to reverse causation; persons who aren’t depressed are more likely to have the motivation to exercise. Scientists, on the other hand, believe that exercise is beneficial to the brain.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans stated they have never exercised in a 2021 poll. It can be helpful to have a scientifically-based minimum for results if they’re going to put on their jogging shoes or use the weight machines to improve their mental health.

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