If ever you had any doubts about the mind-body connection, listen up: New research suggests that physical activity may be the key to fighting depression.
Three recent studies pooled data from past research involving a total of 1,140,000 adult men and women. Altogether, they suggest that regular exercise “alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair,” the New York Times reports.
Where many previous studies on the effect of exercise on the brain have been small scale or based on unreliable self-reporting, here, the researchers looked only at reports based on objective statistics. For example, one study focused on whether or not exercise could prevent depression by measuring participants’ aerobic fitness, rather than trusting participants’ memory of their workouts. On top of that, studies considered had to include mental health testing at the beginning and end of the studies with follow-ups after a year or longer.
RESEARCHERS FOUND THAT THOSE WITH LOWEST FITNESS LEVELS WERE 75 PERCENT MORE LIKELY TO BE DIAGNOSED WITH DEPRESSION
Researchers found that those with lowest fitness levels were 75 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those with the greatest fitness levels. In another study included, results showed that those clinically diagnosed with depression showed significant improvement when put on a “moderately strenuous” exercise program. The third study concluded that those who suffered from depression and then remedied it with exercise showed markers of inflammation reduced in their blood, while brain health-promoting hormones and biochemicals increased.
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This is still just a start at the potential exercise has to help mental health–the researchers, exercise scientist Felipe Barreto Shuch and King’s College professor Brendon Stubbs, both primary authors on the three reviews–cautioned that bigger and more long-term research needs to be done. In the future, they hope research will explore exactly what type of exercise and how much of it needs to be done to effectively treat and prevent depression.
For now, just know that if you’re having a terrible day, going on a run or signing up for a workout class will definitely help. Science says so.