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Did You Know Exercise May Help Prevent Depression?

Jan 13 2020
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Exercise is good for your body, but did you know that it may be good for your mental health as well? A recent research study found that exercise may even help prevent depression in individuals genetically predisposed to it.

Expert Carson Felkel, MD, system medical director of Behavioral Health, breaks down what this study could mean for you.

“This study demonstrates that physical activity may protect against our inherited risk and actually prevent the onset of depression,” says Dr. Felkel.

However, it is important to note that depression is undoubtedly also influenced by life experiences and stressors.

Exercise reduces risk for those genetically more likely to get depression.

In the study, exercise provided a protective effect for people who had multiple genes that typically predict a risk for depression.

“Even individuals at the highest genetic risk for depression may benefit from physical activity,” says Dr. Felkel. “This modified risk reduction was significant regardless of differences in body mass index, employment status, education, and prior depression.”

Any type of physical activity helps.

The study also found that participants who engaged in some form of activity had a lower risk for depression compared to sedentary participants. This was regardless of the type activity. What mattered most was that the participants were active.

“I recommend to my patients that they exercise in a way that is achievable and not overwhelming,” says Dr. Felkel. “Patients need to develop a plan with their provider that they can stick to and turn into a good habit. This study found that even light walking and stretching can prevent depression.”

Experiment with new types of exercise or stick with the tried and true—whatever works for you!

Aim for at least three hours of exercise a week.

Finally, the study found that people who got at least three hours of physical activity a week reaped the benefits of this mental health buffer. They were less likely to become depressed compared to those who were less active or sedentary. Researchers also noted the risk of depression decreased by 17 percent for every additional 30 minutes of activity each day.

“Psychotherapy and medications can certainly treat depression into remission,” says Dr. Felkel. “But now we are learning that we may have even more control over our mental health — we may be able to prevent the condition in the first place.”

Learn more about the behavioral and mental health services available at Bon Secours.


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