We all know that one of the major benefits of exercise is how it positively affects your mood. Ever notice how runners, yogis and fitness fanatics always see the glass half full?
But you don’t need to be a hardcore gym rat to reap the mental health benefits. According to a new Australian study, as little as one hour a week can make a real difference.
Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the paper followed more than 22,000 healthy Norwegian adults with no previous history of mental illness, tracking their exercise habits, along with their symptoms of depression and anxiety, over 11 years.
At the beginning of the study, 12% did not exercise, while the rest ranged from “up to 30 minutes” to “more than 4 hours” a week. Over the course of the study, 7% of people developed anxiety and 9% developed depression.
While there was no relationship between exercise and anxiety, the researchers saw a link between physical activity and depression. People who said they didn’t exercise at the study’s start being 44% more likely to become depressed, compared to those who exercised at least 1 to 2 hours a week (no benefits were observed for people who worked out more), even when controlling for factors like age, gender, smoking, drinking, social support and BMI.
While the authors were careful to point out that they could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, the study seems to suggest that almost 12% of cases of depression could be prevented with as little as one hour of exercise a week.
Furthermore, intensity of exercise didn’t make any difference when it came to reaping the mental health benefits.
“Given that the intensity of exercise does not appear to be important,” the authors wrote, “it may be that the most effective public health measures are those that encourage and facilitate increased levels of everyday activities, such as walking or cycling.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why one hour of exercise seemed to make such a difference, but the researchers made several hypotheses, including the fact that physical fitness likely has social benefits, is a self-esteem booster and releases “feel-good” endorphins, all of which can help stave off depression.
“There is good evidence that physical activity can help people recover from depression, though we recommend it be used in addition to the usual treatments we would prescribe for established depression, like medication and counseling,” says Harvey. “Our study takes this a bit further and shows that exercise may also have a role in preventing people developing depression in the first place.”
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost your mood and prevent depressive episodes. The best way to keep the blues at bay is to maintain a regular fitness routine to keep your spirits lifted. Just one hour a week is all it takes.