People who engage in regular physical activity – however intense –
are less likely to have symptoms of depression, according
to new research
published in the November issue of the
British Journal of Psychiatry
Crucially, researchers have also found that
this activity needs to be taken in people’s leisure time if they
are to feel the benefits. The study showed that people who exert
themselves at work, by doing lots of walking or lifting, are no
less likely to be depressed than people with sedentary jobs.
Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry,
King’s College London teamed up with academics from the Norwegian
Institute of Public Health and the University of Bergen in Norway
to conduct the study. They asked 40,401 Norwegian residents how
often they engaged in both light and intense physical activity
during their leisure time. Light activity was defined as an
activity that did not lead to being sweaty or out-of-breath, while
intense activity did result in sweating or breathlessness. The
residents were also asked how physically active they were at work,
underwent a physical examination and answered questions regarding
symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The team found an inverse relationship between
the amount of leisure-time activity and symptoms of depression. In
other words, the more people engaged in physical activity during
their spare time, the less likely they were to be depressed. People
who were not active in their leisure time were almost twice as
likely to have symptoms of depression compared to the most active
individuals. Interestingly, the intensity of the exercise didn’t
seem to make any difference. Even people who took light exercise,
without breaking into a sweat or getting out-of-breath, were less
likely to show symptoms of depression.
However, the researchers found no such
relationship between workplace activity and symptoms of depression.
Nor did they find any consistent relationship between physical
activity and anxiety.
Lead researcher Dr Samuel Harvey said: “Our
study shows that people who engage in regular leisure-time activity
of any intensity are less likely to have symptoms of depression. We
also found that the context in which activity takes place is vital
and that the social benefits associated with exercise, like
increased numbers of friends and social support, are more important
in understanding how exercise may be linked to improved mental
health than any biological markers of fitness. This may explain why
leisure activity appears to have benefits not seen with physical
activity undertaken as part of a working day.”
For further information, please
McLoughlin in the Communications Department.
Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 07738 349070
Harvey SB, Hotopf M, Øverland S and Mykletun A (2010) Physical activity and common mental health, British Journal of Psychiatry, 197: 357-364