Past researchers have attempted to find a link between mental health and physical exercise, but have had difficulty unearthing definitive proof. In 2013, a comprehensive review took place on these depression-exercise studies to see if a reasonable connection could be made. The scientists behind them found that it was impossible to say whether exercise had an any effect on depression.
Three years later, three new studies have emerged that say: yes, exercise does seem to improve your mental well being.
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The first study, conducted by a large collection of global health researchers, measured the aerobic fitness of men and women, based on objective markers like blood pressure and heart rate. It then compared this fitness with the participants’ mental health, as verified by standard mental health testing.
The results were clear: those with the lowest fitness levels were 75% more likely to have depression diagnoses than those with higher levels of fitness.
In the second study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, they looked at people who had already been diagnosed with depression. They gave clinically-diagnosed participants some type of exercise program to see how they would respond.
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According to the NY Times, the results showed that the exercise programs had a “large and significant effect” against depression, especially when the exercise was both supervised and moderately strenuous.
The final study, published in by the Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, took a more biological approach to exploring the links between exercise and depression. This review looked at the blood samples of depressed persons before and after they had exercised. It found that on the whole, exercise significantly reduced markers of inflammation and increased a number of hormones that are linked to brain health. This indicates that exercise improves brain health directly through hormonal means.
Like everything in life, it’s not all cut-and-dry, however. The researchers suggest that the studies could be too short-term to decisively conclude that exercise stops depression. But the message is clear: be active to help fight gloom.
Has exercise ever helped brighten your day? Tell us about it in the comments!