Article by Sarah Knapton of Science
Exercising for 20 minutes a day cuts the risk of developing depression by one third, and could save the British economy billions, the biggest ever study has shown.
The NHS currently spends £7.5 billion tackling depression each year, including £266 million on antidepressants alone.
But a major new review led by King’s College London, has found that meeting the recommended weekly guideline of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or brisk walking, could have a huge impact on the numbers of depressed people.
The review of 49 cohort studies, involving 266,000 people found those following the guidance were 31 per cent less likely to develop depression over the seven and a half year research period compared to those who did not meet NHS levels
Co-author Dr Brendon Stubbs, Post-doctoral research physiotherapist, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College, said: “We found that higher levels of physical activity were protective from future depression in children, adults and older adults, across every continent and after taking into account other important factors such as body mass index, smoking and physical health conditions.
“People who met the government recommendations had the greatest decreased risk of developing depression, equating to a reduction of 31 per cent compared to people not meeting government guidelines.
“The key messages is that when it comes to reducing your chances of developing depression, some physical activity is better than none and the more you do the better your chances are from preventing depression developing. “
Around one in 4 people in Britain will experience a mental health problem each year and 3.3 in 100 (2.14 million) are suffering from depression at any given time.
According to the Centre for Mental Health, around 91 million days are lost each year in the workplace to depression, anxiety and stress, costing British businesses approximately £26 billion in lost productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover.
The Department of Health estimates that the total cost to the English economy from depression is in the region of £105 billion a year.
The researchers said it was time for the ‘overwhelming evidence’ to be translated into meaningful policy decisions which changed living environments to allow people to be more active every day.
Co-author Dr Joseph Firth, Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University said: ‘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.”
The findings have been published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
Lead author Professor Dr Felipe Barreto Schuch, Universidade La Salle (Brazil), added: “This is 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.
“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.”