(CN) – Physical activity can reduce a person’s chances of developing depression, according to a new study.
The report, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, stems from an analysis of data from 49 unique cohort studies of 266,939 individuals without mental illness, who were followed up with 7.4 years later, on average.
The findings show that regardless of age or geographical location, a person who engages in high levels of physical activity has a lower risk of developing depression in the future than someone who is less active.
“The evidence is clear that people that are more active have a lesser risk of developing depression,” said lead author Felipe Barreto Schuch, an exercise scientist at Universidade La Salle in Brazil. “We have looked at whether these effects happen at different age groups and across different continents and the results are clear.
“Regardless your age or where you live, physical activity can reduce the risk of having depression later in life.”
The team’s report is the first global meta-analysis to demonstrate that physical activity helps protect against depression, according to Schuch.
The findings – which did not distinguish between different types of activity, but did account for key factors like physical health conditions, smoking and body mass index – show the value of engaging people in physical activity in a variety of settings, according to co-author Joseph Firth.
“The compelling evidence presented here provides an even stronger case for engaging all people in regular physical activity; through schools, workplaces, leisure programs and elsewhere, in order to reduce the risk of depression across the lifespan,” said Firth, a research fellow at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Australia’s Western Sydney University.
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South London, Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and the Maudsley National Health Service Foundation Trust, all of which are based in the United Kingdom.
While the team says the findings are clear, their potential impact on policy is murky.
“The challenge ahead is ensuring that this overwhelming evidence is translated into meaningful policy change that creates environments and opportunities to help everyone, including vulnerable members of our society, engage in physical activity,” said co-author Simon Rosenbaum, senior research fellow at the University of New South Wales, Sydney and the Black Dog Institute in Australia.
The team says future research is needed to determine the minimum levels of physical activity required and the impact of various forms and thresholds of activity on future depression risk.
“Given the multitude of other health benefits of physical activity, our data add to the pressing calls to prioritize physical activity across the lifespan,” said co-author Brendon Stubbs, a postdoctoral research physiotherapist at King’s College London.