Four extra hours of weekly exercise reduces depression risk by a fifth

Representational Image

Representational Image

Regular exercise may reduce the risk of depression, even in people who are genetically prone to the condition, according to a new study.

Drawing on genomic and electronic health record data from almost 8,000 participants in the Partners Healthcare Biobank, the new study is the first to show how physical activity can influence depression despite genetic risk.

Adding four hours of exercise a week could lower the risk of a new episode of depression by 17%, according to the study published November 5 in the journal Depression and Anxiety. Researchers followed patients who filled out a survey about their lifestyle habits (including physical activity) when they enrolled in the biobank. "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", study lead author Karmel Choi, postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement.

Researchers using the genome date calculate the person's genetic risk for depression and gave people a "score" based on their risk.

The study examined data for 7,968 people, including 628 people who had been diagnosed with depression during a two-year period. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), depression can run in families suggesting that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing the disease. Significantly, though, people who were more physically active at baseline were less likely to develop depression, even after accounting for genetic risk.

He said exercising for an extra 30 minutes or so per day "may help people to reduce their risk and protect against future depression episodes".

Depression represents the leading cause of disability worldwide. The study noted that both high-intensity forms of activity like aerobic exercise, dance, and exercise machines, as well as lower-intensity forms such as yoga and stretching, were linked to decreased odds of depression. The researchers said there were fewer actionable ways of preventing depression and other mental health conditions, and added that the study offers valuable insights that can be used to make clinical recommendations.

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