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Fun exercise 'fights off depression'

01 November 2010

Woman on rowing machinePhysical activity can stave off depression – but only if it is fun, research suggests.

Scientists have confirmed that people who take regular exercise are less likely to be depressed. But they also found that such activity has to be during leisure time to be of any benefit.

People who exert themselves at work, for instance by digging up roads or heavy lifting, were no less likely to suffer depression than those in sedentary desk jobs.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London teamed up with colleagues in Norway to carry out the study of 40,401 Norwegian residents.

Participants were asked how often they engaged in both light and intense physical activity during their leisure time.

Light activity was defined as one that that did not lead to being sweaty or out-of-breath, unlike intense activity.

People were also asked how physically active they were at work.

All the volunteers were given a physical examination and answered questions aimed at assessing their levels of depression and anxiety.

The study found that individuals who took part in regular physical activity – however mild or intense – were less likely to have symptoms of depression. However, this only held true when activity was part of leisure.

The more people engaged in physical activity in their spare time, the less chance they had of being depressed.

Those who were not active in their leisure time were almost twice as likely to suffer symptoms of depression than the most active individuals.

The findings are published today in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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.”

SOURCE: Press Association