Researchers Find Evidence That Even Some Physical Activity Is Beneficial For Those With Depression

We know that a regular amount of exercise is good for us. From heart health to mental health, the benefits of a daily walk or jog are plenty. But putting this into practice may be easier said than done, especially for those dealing with depression. However, a small amount of daily exercise may be highly beneficial for people living with depression specifically, according to a new systematic review.

Depression is vast and far-reaching. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 25% worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Depression is a disorder of the brain and a serious medical condition that deserves care just like any other part of our bodies (via MedlinePlus). While its causes are still being studied, scientists suggest genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors are at play. Additionally, the condition is more prevalent in women than men. Treatment is very individualized and can include medication and psychotherapy (per National Institute of Mental Health). Unfortunately, depression often co-occurs with other medical conditions, such as ​​diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, sometimes worsening them.

Even a small amount of exercise helps

The systematic review, published in JAMA Psychiatry, analyzed 15 studies that included a total of 191,130 participants. While it came as no surprise to researchers that exercise decreased the risk of depression, they found that the amount of exercise needed to decrease the risk was surprisingly low. Just meeting the minimum amount of physical movement recommended by public health officials, which is the equivalent of 2.5 hours of brisk walking per week (roughly 20 minutes per day), lowered the risk of depression by 25%. And those who only did half this amount, which equates to roughly 10 minutes each day, had an 18% lowered risk, compared to those who did not move at all. 

Interestingly, researchers also found that benefits leveled off at 2.5 hours per week, meaning that additional exercise beyond that amount is not necessary for minimizing depression risk. It was also found that an estimated 12% of depression cases could have been prevented in the first place had this small amount of exercise been in place.

These findings are important, as it can be incredibly difficult to feel motivated to move at all when you're in the midst of a depressive episode (via U.S. News & World Report). Knowing that just a few minutes of exercise per day can help reduce your risk of depression could be the motivation we need.