This Is How Much Exercise You Need to Help Prevent and Manage Depression
It's not a scary number!
By Hana Hong
Do shorter days and blustery temperatures make you feel down? It’s totally normal to experience the fall and winter blues. In fact, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition characterized by extended, recurring periods of major depression linked to seasonal changes, particularly the lack of natural light.12 Symptoms typically emerge in the late fall and early winter and subside in the spring. SAD, or seasonal depression, can include a whole bevy of negative symptoms, like difficulty sleeping, hopelessness, loss of interest, and low energy.
There are several strategies you can try to feel better (hello, light therapy, weighted blankets, and therapy apps). But tons of research has found that one of the best ways to lower your odds for developing depression, seasonal or otherwise, is to get some regular exercise.3 And the best news? You don’t need to spend hours toiling away at the gym every day—or start training for a triathlon—to ward off depression and protect your mental health. And this goes for any time of the year.
Exercise Is an Effective Tool for Reducing Depression Risk
A 2019 study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, found that individuals who engaged in recurring exercise each week were less likely to be diagnosed with depression, even in the face of high genetic risk for the disorder.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) recorded data from nearly 8,000 participants in the Partners Healthcare Biobank. After patients filled out a survey about their lifestyle habits (including physical activity), their health data over the next two years were analyzed in order to identify diagnoses related to depression. They also calculated genetic risk scores for each participant that reflected individual inherited risk for depression. Findings showed that people who were more physically active were less likely to develop depression than those who were not active, even after accounting for genetic risk.
"Our findings strongly suggest that, when it comes to depression, genes are not destiny and that being physically active has the potential to neutralize the added risk of future episodes in individuals who are genetically vulnerable," said the study’s lead author, Karmel Choi, Ph.D., researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the study.
And this all makes a lot of sense. “Moderate to high-intensity workouts can lead to an increase in endorphins that elevate our moods temporarily,” explains Eudene Harry, M.D., a board-certified medical director for Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida.5 “Research has also shown that consistent aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which is associated with a reduced risk of depression."
How Much Exercise You Need to Help Prevent Depression
So exactly how much physical activity does it take to reduce the risk of future incidents of depression? According to Choi and her research findings, exercising for about 35 minutes per day (or four hours and five minutes per week), is enough to lower your odds for experiencing a new incidence of depression.
Overall, for each additional four-hour block of activity per week, individuals could see a 17 percent reduction in risk. This means that getting about double the above number—or one hour of exercise per day (or about eight hours total per week)—could even further reduce depression risk.
This also corresponds well with the 2020 WHO-recommended guidelines for physical activity: 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (that's about 22 to 43 minutes a day)—or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week (about 11 to 22 minutes a day) for able-bodied adults.
More recently, a 2022 JAMA Psychiatry published a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 prospective studies, analyzing the relationship between exercise and depression risk.8 This review saw comparable conclusions that confirm and support Choi and her team’s findings:
Compared to adults who did no physical activity, adults who did 4.4 hours of physical activity per week had an 18 percent lower risk of depression; and adults who did 8.8 hours of physical activity had a 25 percent lower risk of depression. (Also of note, increased exercise beyond 8.8 hours per week was associated with “diminishing potential benefits”—good to know you don’t need to overdo it!)
But what’s more, the JAMA review concluded that even a little bit of exercise is far better than none at all for your mood. “[R]elatively small doses of physical activity were associated with substantially lower risks of depression,” the abstract reports. “This systematic review… suggests significant mental health benefits from being physically active, even at levels below the public health recommendations.”
More specifically: If you can only carve out just two and a half hours total per week to move your body—equivalent to about 25 minutes a day of “brisk walking”—that’s still effective when it comes to fending off serious blues, especially if you’re starting from no activity at all.
What's the Best Type of Exercise?
The Harvard researchers found that both high-intensity forms of aerobic activity (think: running, spinning/cycling, dancing, and exercise machines) and lower-intensity exercise (think: walking, yoga, and stretching) were equally effective at decreasing one's odds of depression.
“The exercise that works is the type that you do on a consistent basis, so I suggest picking things that you enjoy," Dr. Harry says. "Whether it’s hiking, gardening, or biking, the key is to get your heart pumping. Social interaction also adds another thing to the equation to help fight depression, so activities like a fun dance class, hiking with friends, or a game of basketball can do wonders."
Heeding the latest research and recommendations, anywhere from a minimum of 25 minutes a day to a maximum of about 75 minutes a day of exercise can play a beneficial role in lowering your risk for depression and improving your mood.
This entry was posted on Monday, March 15th, 2021 at 9:42 pm
My only goal in life was to be rich. I always figured that if I was rich then I would have everything I wanted…….no challenges, money to do whatever I wanted, and I assume a level of success. I had everything I needed right there in front of me. There was one major problem though, I had no belief in myself, no plan on how to accomplish anything, no interests that I recognized as positive and not self-destructive, and no discipline. What the hell do we do with that? I gave up. Over, and Over, and Over, and Over again. In fact, I say I am an expert at only two things in this world, me/myself, and quitting (because of all of the times I quit when things got hard).
Jordan Peterson is one of my absolute favorite people. His pragmatic thought processes provide such a beneficial support structure to build resiliency, discipline, and those steps to do good in life. Dr. Peterson’s wisdom is simple, but the practical steps it takes to move forward can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start. Start with what interests you, and then go from there. This world is freaking hard, its harder when you are miserable and have no direction. Don’t give up, if you want change to happen then…….YOU HAVE TO MOVE. Nothing good ever came from sitting on our ass crying whoa is me. Let’s figure this crap out.
1) Make a plan 2) Look at what you are interested in 3) Become disciplined in what you want 4) Recognize that you have something of SIGNIFICANCE to offer the world 5) Don’t shy away from taking on responsibility
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 11th, 2021 at 8:25 pm
When I was in my early 20’s I was at a department store. If I remember correctly, I was simply returning something that my mom had gotten for me. I don’t remember there being a level of stress as that is not what stand out. As I approached the counter to pay, my vision started to become altered. My heart began beating harder and faster then I have ever felt. I was losing it, right in front of these people. “Don’t pay attention…..you can get through this…..this is nothing…..etc.” ran through my head. Next, it felt like walls were closing in on me as my eyesight began to close. In a moment, I dropped everything on the counter and ran to the bathroom where I would be perched on the toilet, praying to any God that would hear me, to please take this from me. It would be years later when I would learn that this was a panic attack. It was a terribly frightening experience for me.
Anxiety is all about chaos in the brain and the body. When you are in full blown panic attack, there is no order, only chaos. So, the question is, how do we bring some order to that place?
Take a look at this video that a client recently brought to my attention. Like most things, anxiety is not a one size fits all and thus does not have a set “take this, do this, and this will happen” type of challenge.
Here is one man’s story of how he is working WITH his anxiety.
This entry was posted on Thursday, February 11th, 2021 at 11:55 pm
Dr. Jordan Peterson is one of my most favorite people. Quite truthfully, the way that he talks is far over my head sometimes, but he nails the simple things. So many men that I have the pleasure of working with are, well, workers. What I mean is that there is the side to so many men that want to fix things, so they put their head down and get to work. The problem, what happens when that is not effective? What do you do now? Below are some simple strategies to begin to invest into your EVERYDAY life, instead of just when things are going poorly. These are NOT going to fix everything, but this is a great start to putting yourself in a position to be more effective in your daily life.
• Stand up straight with your shoulders back o Correcting posture boosts confidence and self-esteem, which others notice as well. • Treat yourself like someone you’re responsible for helping o You would do anything for the people you love the most, and that should include you. • Make friends with those who want the best for you o Friends who truly support you will demand the best from you and tell you the truth, while toxic friends will just damage you. • Compare yourself to who you were yesterday and not someone else today o Comparing yourself to others damages your sense of self while working to improve on your past self will fulfill you. • Don’t let your children do anything to make others dislike them o If you allow your children to engage in behaviors you dislike, you’re setting them up for failure by becoming dislikeable adults. • Put your house in perfect order before you start to criticize the world o Find fulfillment by remedying your own faults and improving yourself daily. • Do what is meaningful and not most expedient o Our brains are wired to find meaning in life no matter how hard the road to get there is, which will give us the most fulfillment. • Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie o Corrupting your own perceptions with lies leads directly to a world of chaos where you cannot rely on yourself or your judgments. • Assume the person you’re listening to knows something you don’t o Living life constantly searching for knowledge from others can only help you achieve a life of meaning. • Be precise in your speech o The more exact you are about who you want to be and what you want, the more likely you are to be successful because you can visualize it with absolute clarity. • Don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding o Encourage your children to take measured risks as a way to practice confronting the chaos of life instead of overprotecting them and hiding from the chaos. • Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street o When chaos in your life is unavoidable, such as personal tragedy, focus on what’s right in front of you for as long as you need to until you have the strength to begin looking farther ahead again.