Just 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) five days a week may reduce the symptoms and severity of depression. Researchers wanted to learn the least amount of exercise needed to fight depression.
“There is no agreement on how much physical activity is protective for depression overall, or how this may vary among adults with disease,” said lead author of the study Dr. Eamon Laird of the Univ. of Limerick. “For this work, we used 10 years’ worth of data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing which included information on depression, MVPA and other key health-related variables, such as disease, lifestyle factors and socio-economic status.”
The researchers found that just 20 minutes of activities like brisk walking or biking five days a week lowered the rate of depression symptoms by 16 percent and major depression by 43 percent. When people exercised for 120 minutes a day, the benefits increased to a 23 percent reduction in symptoms and a 49 percent lower chance of major depression. The results were the same for those with or without chronic illness.
The study was the largest to use people over 50 at high risk for depression. Dr. Laird said the research was “very relevant given the high prevalence of depression in our increasingly older adult population. Physical activity at lower doses than the World Health Organization recommends for overall health may offer protection against depressive symptoms and major depression. At minimum, try to engage in 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity at least five days per week, with more benefits at higher doses. Try and build it into a routine with hobbies or activities you enjoy and try doing it with others as social interactions particularly with activity can also benefit mental health.”
Depression is linked to five to 10 percent of all medical treatments in Europe. People spend about $210.5 billion on treatment for depression in the U.S. every year. Finding ways to naturally lower levels of depression is key to a healthier population with lower medical costs.
Dr. Matthew Herring, the study’s principal investigator, stressed that it isn’t suggesting people exercise less. Just because as little as 20 minutes helps doesn’t mean folks should cut back if they exercise more than that. They are saying that more sedentary people can benefit from exercise, even if it’s below the recommended daily amount.
If you suffer from depression, exercise can be a helpful tool to help ease symptoms. However, it’s essential not to use physical activity in place of treatment from a doctor. If you struggle with your mood or mental health, speak to your doctor for medical advice and a treatment plan that includes exercise.