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World study proves exercise good for mental health

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Everyone knows exercise is good for your health, physical and mental.

New findings from an international collaboration of researchers, however, has revealed that physical activity can protect against the emergence of depression, regardless of age and geographical region.

Researchers from Brazil, Belgium, Australia, USA, UK and Sweden pooled data from 49 unique cohort studies of people free from mental illness that examined if physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of developing depression.

In total, 266,939 individuals were included, with a gender distribution of 47 per cent males, and on average the individuals were followed up after 7.4 years.

Once the data was extracted they found that compared with people with low levels of physical activity, those with high levels had lower odds of developing depression in the future.

Physical activity had a protective effect, they found, against the emergence of depression in youths, in adults, and in the elderly and across geographical regions.

The geographic regions studied were in Europe, North America, and Oceania.

Australians researchers involved in the study were from Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute, the Black Dog Institute and UNSW Sydney.

Dr Felipe Barreto Schuch, from Universidade La Salle in Brazil, was the lead author and said the study was the first global meta-analysis to establish that engaging in physical activity is beneficial for protecting the general population from developing depression.

“The evidence is clear that people that are more active have a lesser risk of developing depression,” Dr Barreto Schuch said.

“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.”

Co-author Dr Simon Rosenbaum, Senior Research Fellow at UNSW Sydney and the Black Dog Institute, said: “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.”

The findings in Physical Activity and Incident Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies were first published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers say further studies are warranted to evaluate the minimum physical activity levels required and the effects of different types and lengths of activity on subsequent risk for depression.