Exercise is effective for battling chronic depression: study

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Short bursts of exercise can help reduce the symptoms of chronic depression, a study has found.

The study, published on Monday in JAMA Network Open, found when people over 50 who suffer from conditions often linked to depression — such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic pain — exercised, the activity reduced their depressive symptoms.

The research, which followed more than 4,000 Irish adults with an average age of 61 for a decade, found if adults suffering from the conditions linked to depression exercised at least 20 minutes a day, five times a week, their symptoms improved.

However, people in the study suffering from depression but without an accompanying chronic disease needed moderate to vigorous exercise two hours daily for symptoms to ease. There was noticeable improvement in depressive symptoms for those participants who did so, according to lead study author Eamon Laird, a researcher at the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

Woman arms stretched out exercising.
The amount of exercise needed to reduce depressive symptoms differs if the person has a chronic condition.
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Woman head in hands looking sad.
Millions of people suffer from depression.
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Study participants came from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, and were evaluated every two years .

Researchers gave them questionnaires about their physical activity and exercise levels before assessing their depressive symptoms. Those with serious symptoms and those who had suffered from a major depressive episode during the past 12 months were classified as having major depression.

“Examples of symptoms from the questionnaire included: I had trouble keeping my mind on what I was doing; My sleep was restless; I felt I could not shake off the blues even with the help from my family and friends; etc,” Laird told CNN.

Laird said the study is the first longitudinal (long-form) research of its kind to study depression in people with and without a chronic disease, and to work out what the lowest minimal dose of exercise is before depression symptoms are eased.

“The higher the physical activity dose, the greater the mental health benefits for depression,” Laird said.

Man and woman with kettlebell.
They found a correlation between exercise and depressive symptoms.
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The study found people who exercised for 20 minutes a day, five days a week, had a 16% lower rate of depressive symptoms next to the 43% risk faced by those who didn’t work out at all.

Unfortunately, the authors also noted the overall rate of depression had risen overall from 8% to 10% over the 10 years in which the study had taken place.

They added that in the same period antidepressant use increased from about 6% to 10% and exercise rates declined around 10% overall.

The fact that working out helps ease depression symptoms is not new, although the importance of the time spent exercising hadn’t been previously established.

One in six adults will have depression at some time in their life and it affects about 16 million American adults every year, according to the CDC.

In February, a study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found regular exercise may be more effective than medication for the treatment of mental illness, such as depression.

“Physical activity is known to help improve mental health. Yet despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment,” lead researcher Dr. Ben Singh said in a statement.

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