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Leisure activity cuts depression risk

11th November 2010

Leisure activity cuts depression risk

[Posted: Mon 01/11/2010 by Deborah Condon -]

People who engage in regular physical activity outside of their working hours are less likely to show symptoms of depression, irrespective of how intense the activity is, the results of a new study indicate.


UK and Norwegian researchers questioned over 40,000 people about how often they engaged in both light and intense physical activity during their leisure time.

Light activity was defined as one that did not lead to being sweaty or out-of-breath, while intense activity did result in sweating or breathlessness.

The participants were also asked how physically active they were at work. They then underwent a physical examination and answered questions regarding symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The study found an inverse relationship between the amount of leisure-time activity and symptoms of depression. In other words, the more people engaged in physical activity during their spare time, the less likely they were to be depressed.

People who were not active in their leisure time were almost twice as likely to have symptoms of depression compared to the most active individuals.

Moreover, the intensity of the exercise did not seem to make any difference. Even people who took light exercise, without breaking into a sweat or getting out-of-breath, were less likely to show symptoms of depression.

However, the researchers found no such relationship between workplace activity and symptoms of depression. In other words, people who exert themselves at work, by doing lots of walking or lifting, are no less likely to be depressed than people with sedentary jobs.

No consistent relationship between physical activity and anxiety was found.

"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, such as 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," explained lead researcher, Dr Samuel Harvey of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.

He added that this may explain why leisure activity appears to produce benefits not seen with physical activity undertaken as part of a working day.

Details of these findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

For more information on depression, click here


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