An international team of researchers has discovered that physical activity can protect against depression, regardless of age and geographic region. Researchers from Brazil, Belgium, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden have compiled data from 49 studies of people without mental illness. They examined whether physical activity was associated with a decreased risk of depression.
A total of 266,939 people were analyzed, 47% of whom were men and 53% women. Follow-ups lasted 7.4 years on average. Factors such as body mass index, smoking status and physical health of subjects were also considered.
Once the data was extracted, scientists found that, compared to people with low levels of physical activity, people with high levels of physical activity were less likely to develop depression. Physical activity had a protective effect against the emergence of depression among youth, adults, the elderly and in all the geographical regions studied (in Europe, North America and Oceania). Their results was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“This is the first global analysis that establishes that physical activity is beneficial for protecting people against depression,” said Professor Felipe Barreto Schuch, lead author of the study.
“It’s clear that more active people are at a lower risk for depression, we’ve looked at whether these effects are occurring in different age groups and across different continents, and the results are clear, regardless of age or location, physical activity can reduce the risk of depression,” says Dr. Brendon Stubbs, a physiotherapist and researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.
Depression is a disease that affects all ages, from childhood to very late in life. In 2010, 7.5% of 15- to 85-year-olds would have experienced a depressive episode, with a prevalence twice as high among women as among men. The prevalence of depressive disorders is estimated at 2.1 to 3.4% in children and 14% in adolescents.
Prioritizing physical activity throughout one’s life is therefore very important, although further studies are needed to assess the minimum levels of physical activity and the different types of activity required to reduce the risk of depression.
The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that depressive disorders are the world’s leading cause of morbidity and disability. Thus, there are more than 300 million people suffering from depression in the world, an increase of more than 18% over 2005.