Yet More Proof That Exercise Reduces Depression

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The evidence keeps piling on.

I assumed the scientific community already knew exercise reduces depression. But apparently, they're still conducting studies to figure it out. Which means A) not all scientists know this and B) probably a lot of regular people don't know this. Which is a shame, because this is one of those incredibly important things to know.

A team from Massachusetts General Hospital used a technique called Mendelian randomization to figure out the connection between physical activity and depression. Apparently, some people inherit genes that predispose them to move more. The scientists found people with those genes were less likely to be depressed.

“On average, doing more physical activity appears to protect against developing depression," explained Karmel Choi, the study's lead author. ”Any activity appears to be better than none; our rough calculations suggest that replacing sitting with 15 minutes of a heart-pumping activity like running, or with an hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was linked to a lower depression risk.”

I know a lot of people who are on antidepressants but don't exercise. Which seems, to me, like a problem. Antidepressants have all kinds of side effects. Exercise, on the other hand, is ridiculously good for you.

Alright, so this news isn't shocking. But it does counter a widely-held misconception. A lot of people seem to have the opinion that exercise is nice, but it's not nearly as powerful a psychological cure as more "official" medical interventions, like therapy or pills.

It's a myth people probably choose to believe on purpose; exercising is harder than popping pills. But exercise is extremely powerful, more useful than medical intervention, according to a number of experts.

This isn't to say that many people with depression shouldn't continue therapy or medication, or that depression is always the result of not exercising enough. (Certainly, don't change any treatment without consulting with your doctor.) Exercise is simply one more tool that can help, a powerful one that is often underutilized.

The challenge is making it easier to exercise, and that's where psychology can actually help. People tend to do whatever is easiest. They imagine they "should" just use willpower to do harder things, but willpower often fails.

So perhaps we ought to build exercise into people's lives rather than demanding they hit the gym in their precious few hours of free time. Creating more bike lanes, for instance, would make it easier for people to commute to work. Putting short exercise breaks in the middle of the work day could help too. After all, depressed workers are not productive workers.