Everyone knows that regular exercise can help prevent adverse physical health impacts like heart disease and diabetes. But heading to the gym or out on a run can also help stave off mental illness, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Scientists examined whether regular exercise had any impact on the 33,908 people they followed over 11 years. None of the people had symptoms of anxiety or depression at the outset when scientists recorded whether people exercised regularly. Twelve percent of people said they exercised anywhere from 30 minutes to more than four hours.
About 7 percent of the people in the study developed depression over the next 10 years, while about 9 percent developed anxiety.
Scientists found that the people who didn’t exercise at the start of the study were 44 percent more likely to experience depression.
“Relatively modest changes in population levels of exercise may have important public mental health benefits and prevent a substantial number of new cases of depression,” the study found.
And the exercise doesn’t have to be intensive, the scientists suggested: Just one hour a week could prevent 12 percent of the cases of depression.
The American Heart Association recommends adults exercise at moderate intensity at least five days a week for 30 minutes, for a total of 150 minutes per week. People can also do “vigorous” aerobic activity at least three days a week for 25 minutes each, along with “moderate-to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity” at least two days a week to improve overall cardiovascular health.
The relationship was not found in preventing anxiety, the scientists noted.