The Latest Research on Depression and Exercise

exercise now proven to help with depression

For years, exercise has been known to be a factor in preventing and treating depression, but until now researchers haven’t proven whether there is a causal link or simply a connection. The latest study makes it clear.

“Do you get any regular exercise?”

It’s a question I ask my clients regularly. People who exercise on a regular basis find that it helps reduce their anxious thoughts and depressed mood. If you are someone who loves to exercise and makes it part of your routine, it may be hard to imagine life without it. However, if you don’t exercise or if you have stopped, you know how hard it is to get started.

The accepted advice has been to do 30 minutes of heart-pumping cardio 3-5 times a week for physical and emotional benefits.

Previous research has indicated that exercise works just as well as anti-depressants (or better!) for mild-moderate depression. The latest study, led by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at genes in a randomized study to determine if this indicated a causal link. Their answer: yes.

“On average, doing more physical activity appears to protect against developing depression. Any activity appears to be better than none; our rough calculations suggest that replacing sitting with 15 minutes of a heart-pumping activity like running, or with an hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was linked to a lower depression risk.”

The take away:

Aim for 15 minutes of intense exercise or an hour or moderate activity more days than not.

But here’s the rub:

Depression saps energy, takes away motivation, wrecks havoc on appetite and sleep and makes everything feel extremely difficult if not impossible. Things that used to be fun are now “meh” at best and dreadful at worst. I find depression to be one of the cruelest conditions because not only does it do all this…it convinces its sufferers that things are hopeless and will never get better.

So how in the world can you get from there to “15 minutes of a heart-pumping activity like running, or with an hour of moderately vigorous activity” in order to feel better?

If this feels impossible, your doctor or therapist can help you find ways to climb out of the pit enough to get started. For severe depression, working with your doctor to find the right medication may be the next best step.

Start small.

Don’t let black and white thinking get in the way. Start somewhere. Get up and stretch, Walk to the end of the street and back. Do 10 jumping jacks. Notice how your body feels after. Throw in that load of laundry you’ve been putting off. Do just a little more the next day, and the next day after that. Any movement is better than none.

If your mobility is limited, you can’t get started or exercise is just not for you no matter what, don’t despair! This is just one tool in the toolbox, there are many more.


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