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Low Physical Activity Levels Still Help Mental Health

There’s a link between physical activity and depression.

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Woman walking to show low physical activity levels

Here’s good news to motivate adults of all ages who simply want to exercise so they can feel better. Low physical activity levels, even those below public health recommendations, can reduce depression risks.

An international research group concluded this after reviewing 15 studies (each lasting 3 years or longer) that included more than 2 million person-years of data. (One person-year refers to one person being studied for 1 year.)

Depression is a leading cause of disability that affects approximately 280 million people globally, and it is linked with premature mortality from other illnesses and suicide.

Adults who completed 150 minutes of brisk walking per week (or the equivalent) had a 25% lower risk of depression when compared with adults who did not exercise. Those who clocked 75 minutes had an 18% lower risk of depression. Higher physical activity levels only offered minor additional benefits.

Study limitations include the fact that the low physical activity levels were self-reported. Additional research that includes device-based activity measurements and longer follow-up periods is recommended. The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry (2022; 79 [6], 550–59).

See also: Exercise Boosts Neuroplasticity, Helping Depression

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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