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Exercise today to prevent depression tomorrow (study)


We all know that a good run has the power to turn a frown upside down. But this side effect of running can literally save some runners’ lives. Study after study has shown that exercise helps to treat clinical depression – and promising new research shows it may prevent it, too.

Depression: 101
About one in 10 adults in the U.S. suffers from depression. Depression is a serious medical condition just like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. It’s not a personality flaw and it’s not something you can just “snap out” of. Depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in hobbies and activities that used to be pleasurable. Depression causes both physical symptoms, such as insomnia, and emotional ones, like feeling as if life isn’t worth living.

Exercise’s role in depression
Low levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain are believed to be part of what causes clinical depression. One way to raise serotonin levels naturally is through exercise. Most doctors recommend exercise for people who suffer from depression – it works well with medication and psychotherapy to treat the illness. However, some studies suggest that exercise alone works just as well as medicine in treating depression in some people.

The latest research
Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that getting exercise may also help prevent depression, too.

Researchers analyzed 30 studies on depression and exercise conducted over the past 26 years. Of the 30 studies, 25 showed that physical activity significantly affected depression risk. Sedentary individuals, those who did little to no exercise, were more likely to have symptoms of depression or be diagnosed with the illness down the road. While people who exercised regularly were less likely to show signs of depression or be diagnosed later in life.

What’s more, the researchers found that even small amounts of activity were associated with a reduced depression risk. Just 20-30 minutes of low-intensity exercise per day, such as walking, was enough to keep depression at bay. That’s good news for runners. Running just a few miles a few times per week would have a similar effect.

Seasonal depression
There’s a type of depression that spikes during this time of year. Seasonal affective disorder or SAD happens most often in the winter months, when the daylight hours are the shortest. Lack of sunlight can disrupt the levels of serotonin in your brain, and set off symptoms of depression.

Doctors often suggest light therapy as treatment for SAD. This is usually done by using a special “light box”, but simply going outside on a sunny day may help ease symptoms, too.

So, resist the urge to stay indoors if you suffer from SAD. A quick run on a cold, bright day can do wonders for your mood and health during the wintertime.

Related: Run for a longer, healthier life | A healthy body equals a healthy mind