Exercise is an important—and often overlooked—strategy for both preventing and treating depression, according to a research review in Current Sports Medicine Reports. The research cited included a meta-analysis of 49 cohort studies, which followed nearly 267,000 people who were not depressed at baseline for a year or longer. After adjusting for factors that could influence depression risk, it found that higher levels of physical activity and exercise reduced the chance of developing depression by 17 percent overall.
Another meta-analysis cited in the review, which looked at 25 randomized, controlled trials testing the effects of exercise in people who already had depression, found that exercise training had a “very large and significant antidepressant effect” compared to various control interventions. Finding an enjoyable activity, having support from friends and family, and being supervised by a fitness professional all increased the likelihood of starting and sustaining an exercise program, the authors noted.
If exercise hasn’t been a high priority, start by making small changes in your daily life. Try parking your car farther away from the store or mall to increase the amount of time you spend walking. Take the stairs instead of an elevator. Also, try to decrease the amount of time you spend in sedentary activities, such as watching TV. Your goal should be at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity, such as swimming, bicycling, gardening, raking leaves or brisk walking on most days of the week. However, any increase in activity can be beneficial.