Even a small exercise regimen can boost mental health, study finds

US research shows exercising even half the recommended amount can reduce risk of depression

Exercising for at least two and a half hours every week can reduce risk of depression by 25 per cent. Unsplash
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The benefits of exercise on mental health are well documented, but a new study in the US suggests that even a small amount of physical activity can significantly improve your mood.

The research collected data from 15 different studies, involving about 200,000 people. It found that people who complied with the recommended weekly exercise guideline were significantly less likely to have depression.

The positive effects were still visible in those who exercised half as much, according to the research published in Jama Psychiatry this month.

Those who met recommended exercise guidelines — the equivalent of about two and a half hours of brisk walking, cycling or swimming per week — were 25 per cent less likely to have depression, while those who exercised for half of that time were 18 per cent less likely to be found with the condition.

It also suggested that moderate exercise was capable of preventing 11 per cent of future cases of depression.

However, the study’s authors also added a word of caution, saying there was a chance their findings could be an overestimate if certain mitigating factors were present. For example, if a person had undiagnosed depression at the start of the study, they could be less likely to exercise, therefore skewing the numbers.

But they tried to ensure to use only studies with follow-up times of at least three years to account for circumstances such as these.

The authors said the study showed that “substantial mental health benefits" could be achieved through physical activities even if they did not conform to the public health recommendations.

“Health practitioners should therefore encourage any increase in physical activity to improve mental health,” the study concluded.

Updated: April 26, 2022, 11:33 AM