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Keeping Active May Keep Depression at Bay

You probably know that physical activity provides many benefits to physical health, including a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. However, research shows that exercise may boost mental health, too. For example, many studies have suggested that exercise reduces the risk for depression. In a recent study of nearly 20,000 Scottish women and men, exercise was linked to less "psychological distress" — including depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Any exercise was beneficial, but higher activity levels, especially involving sports, seemed more protective.

A new study provides more evidence that activity of any intensity might ward off depression. More than 40,000 Norwegian women and men were asked about their leisure activities, workplace activities, and depression and anxiety symptoms. Those who engaged in both light and intense leisure activities were much less likely to have either depression alone or both depression and anxiety than their inactive peers. Workplace activities didn't seem to have a protective effect. The evidence suggested that exercise's social benefits might play a larger role than its physical effects.

Having trouble squeezing physical activity into your schedule? Even light activity is better than nothing at all. Try these tips:

  • Turn exercise into a family outing with a bike ride or nature walk.

  • Take up a new hobby that will get you moving, such as gardening or yoga.

  • Join a class or sports team whose members count on you to show up.

  • Turn chores into a workout. Mow the lawn with a push mower, and do energetic housework.

  • Pedal on a stationary bike or do sit-ups and lunges while watching the evening news. 

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