Depression: exercise is like medicine and works even in small doses – 04/21/2022

An unprecedented study recently published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the universe of mental health, the JAMA Psychiatrypoints out that practicing physical activity, even just a little, that is, even less than the famous 150 minutes a week recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization), already puts the risk of falling into depression to run.

In a world sunk in sadness, where this disease affects, below, 280 million young and old individuals, this is news to pay some attention to and try to move after it. Again: even if only a little.

It’s true that we always hear that exercise causes well-being – and probably, at some time in your life, you’ve felt it on your own sweaty skin after a good walk or any workout. So, so far there seems to be nothing new. The difference is that, this time, the scientists have refined that knowledge.

They wondered if there was an association between the amount of movement in your routine and making you less likely to be depressed in the future. Would you have to sweat your shirt out to be happy? Would the risk of depression decrease as the hours devoted to moving the body in everyday life increased? Until the study came out last week, no one was very clear on this.

“What we did was a meta-analysis, that is, we gathered the results of 15 studies that involved 2 million people and that sought to answer how much physical activity would reduce the chance of someone developing depression. From these results, we did a new statistical analysis and we drew some conclusions”, explains Felipe Schuch, professor at UFSM (Federal University of Santa Maria), in Rio Grande do Sul.

There, he coordinates a group that researches the relationship between physical activity and mental health. Alongside the University of Cambridge, in England, and the University of Sydney, in Australia, for example, UFSM is one of nine institutions from different countries that sign the article.

Graduated in Physical Education, with a master’s and doctorate in the field of Psychiatry, Schuch has been investigating the effects of physical activity on depression for a long time — about fourteen years. It was he, by the way, who in 2018 led another work done with some of the colleagues in the current study.

“At that time, we wondered how much physical activity would be able to reduce the risk of depression in the future”, he says. The answer, then, was that physically active people had about a 17% lower risk.

But, at the time, the analysis was between who did more and who did less exercise in everyday life. And this is very relative. Let’s suppose: in one of the studies, those who exercised less compared to other participants trained three times a week, which is commendable. In another study, the concept of doing less exercise was to stay on the couch all the time. Complicated to put such different profiles in the same basket.

What did the new study

Now, however, scientists have created a criterion. When one of the surveys said that participants did a certain type of exercise five times a week, for example, they would see how many calories burned, on average, that would correspond. “Maybe if you do an hour of walking, that will correspond to 15 minutes of a high-intensity run”, exemplifies Schuch.

In the end, as was presumably, the more exercise, the better for warding off depression. “However, even low doses already offer some degree of protection”, informs the professor.

Of course, that’s not to say that going for a walk, doing yoga, running in the park, playing ball, or whatever is a 100% guarantee that a guy won’t get depressed.

Depression, after all, is a multifactorial disease in which genetics, family history, lifestyle, whether the person is experiencing grief or other difficulties at the moment, live in an unfavorable environment due to being a victim of prejudice or violence and so on.

In other words, it is often not changing a single isolated factor — exercise — that everything will change. Still, according to the study, it can be assumed that if we were all physically active, 1 in 9 cases of depression around the globe would be avoided.

Those who walk at a fast pace for 2 and a half hours a week or – which, in essence, is exercising the WHO recommended 150 minutes weekly – have a 25% lower risk of developing depression. However, even those who do the same walk for just ten minutes every single day already have an 18% reduction in risk.

It is good to remember that this decrease is an average. If I catch two people doing the same exercise for the same period of time, maybe one uses more energy than the other because they have more muscle mass, for example.

Therefore, you should only stick to the following message: “For mental health, doing some exercise, even if it seems little, is much better than standing still”, concludes the professor.

brand new neurons

There are some hypotheses to explain the phenomenon based on neurobiology. One of them is that exercise would promote neuronal plasticity.

“Today we know that the brain is molded throughout life, that some neurons die, but others are born”, explains Felipe Schuch. “And physical exercise is one of the factors that most stimulate the appearance of these new neurons, and can even lead to the increase of some brain regions, such as the hippocampus, which in some depressed people is sometimes even a little atrophied.”

Young neurons also communicate better with each other, creating numerous connections. This is the opposite of what is usually observed in the brain of those who are depressed: “Their neurons tend to have less connectivity,” says Schuch.

anti-inflammatory effect

A person suffering from depression has an organism, let’s say, more inflamed, no one knows for sure why, nor if the origin of inflammation, which leaves clues, or markers, in the blood would be in the brain.

“What you know is that physical exercise increases inflammation almost instantly, even because of tissue damage”, says the professor. “The body then reacts with an anti-inflammatory response. And when this is activated several times, because the person has an active routine, this response system becomes more efficient.”

Therefore, these natural protection mechanisms are always in place and end up fighting, in turn, the inflammatory molecules that, in some way, are triggered by the depressive state.

interact with others

Felipe Schuch believes that we cannot ignore psychosocial factors: “When you train, you end up meeting other people, which can help”, he observes. “In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a human companion: some studies show an increased sense of well-being in those who have the habit of taking the dog for a walk.”

With your head out of trouble

The professor reminds us that people with depression tend to ruminate on negative thoughts. And the moment of physical activity can be that of unwinding and not thinking about anything. That also counts.

feeling of being able

Finally, studies show that people with depression not only tend to have low self-esteem, they cultivate a feeling that researchers call low self-efficacy. “In other words, she doesn’t believe she is competent to perform from simple tasks, such as taking care of the house, to professional commitments”, says Schuch.

The exercise, in this context, can serve as a hook: if the training is completed until the end, for example, she feels confident in her ability and this ends up reverberating in other situations.

The logic, therefore, is not to wait for the mood to arrive to exercise, but to exercise to get more excited.

About Jenni Smith

She's our PC girl, so anything is up to her. She is also responsible for the videos of Play Crazy Game, as well as giving a leg in the news.

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