One-of-a-Kind Research Reveals a Simple Lifestyle Habit to PREVENT Depression
It's been the long-standing opinion of many researchers and medical experts that physical activity can improve your mental health and help boost your mood when you're feeling low. In fact, numerous studies back up this claim. (1) But there’s always been a lingering question:
Are the people who have balanced, positive mental health simply more likely to go out and exercise (anyone who has struggled with anxiety or depression knows how hard it can be to leave the house), or does exercise actually help prevent mental health problems?
For the very first time, researchers have probed that specific question, and the results (published in the JAMA Psychiatry research journal in January 2019) are promising.
"While many studies have found associations between greater levels of physical activity and lower rates of depression, a key question has remained - does physical activity actually reduce the risk of depression or does depression lead to reduced physical activity?" ask the researchers in their report. (2)
After analyzing nearly 400,000 people, two very interesting findings showed up: Having depression did NOT lead to a lower rate of physical activity, but those who exercised the most seemed to have the most protection and the lowest risk of depression.
"Using genetic data, we found evidence that higher levels of physical activity may causally reduce risk for depression," summarizes Karmel Choi, PhD, of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine, lead author of the report.
This is big news, especially within the context of mental illness. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health warns that one in five American adults live with mental illness. (3)
And here’s more good news: you don’t have to go to the gym and pump heavy weights to gain the mental health-protecting benefits of exercise (although lifting weights IS beneficial, and has added benefits like strengthening your bones and boosting your metabolism). Instead, try some simple ways to work more movement into your daily life.
The following are simply daily habits recommended by the American Heart Association (4) to help you earn a few more steps (and sweat) in your day:
Walk the dog (not surprisingly, people with furry companions average more exercise than those who don’t have a dog)
Go walking with your children, partner or even friends. “It’s an excellent way to get some face time without screens,” notes the AHA. “Keep it fun by exploring new neighborhoods or turning your walk into a scavenger hunt.”
Stroll around the mall if the weather outside isn’t cooperative.
Tune into fitness. “Retrain your inner couch potato,” suggests the association. “Walk or jog in place, do yoga or lift weights, or walk on the treadmill at the gym while you watch your must-see TV shows.”
Ditch the car. “Spare yourself the parking stress and log some more active time by parking farther away (or even leaving the car at home) and walking or biking to your destination,” recommends the AHA.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. It activates some of your biggest muscle groups, helping you to maximize the health benefits as fast as possible.
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