Oct 27, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

If you’re feeling down, a jog around the block may help pick you up.

Decades-long research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that more physically active adults exhibited fewer symptoms of depression than non-active adults.

For 50 years, researchers followed 11,000 participants born the same week in March 1958. They checked in on the participants four times during the study—at ages 23, 33, 42 and 50—to ask how frequently they exercised each week and to test for depressive symptoms such as down mood, fatigue and irritability.

“At most ages, we found a trend of fewer depressive symptoms with more frequent activity,” the researchers said. The opposite was also true.

“The more activity a person does, the less depressive symptoms they have. Conversely, the more intense or greater depressive symptoms someone has, the less physical activity they are likely to have,” says Jason W. Hunziker, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah and the medical director of inpatient care for the University Neuropsychiatric Institute.

This link seemed to be strongest earlier in life.

“That would suggest that in our young patient it would be most important to stress how physical activity can help protect from depression,” Hunziker says.

But exercise benefits patients suffering from depression at any age. The researchers found that increasing activity at any age lowered the chances of depression by 19% five years later.

Hunziker says the study gives more strength to physicians who have been encouraging their patients for a long time to exercise to help relieve stress, anxiety and tension and to improve mood.

Unfortunately, the study also found that depression can be a barrier to activity. To combat that, Hunziker says just getting up and moving is a good start, particularly in individuals who have been sedentary for a long time.

“Start small,” he says. “An example of an exercise plan could be to walk to the mailbox every day for one week. The next week they can start to walk down half the block and back, and so on.”

But, Hunziker says, “exercise is only a part of the treatment of depression. If the patient has moderate to severe depression, medication and therapy should be used, and exercise can be added as an important part of the treatment plan.”

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