Exercise and Depression Has a Mutual Relationship

According to recent research from the University of Toronto, persons who reported having greater depressive symptoms during the previous week were also less likely to report engaging in physical exercise during that same time frame. Generally speaking, there is a positive correlation between physical activity and mental health.

The study, which was published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, advances our knowledge of the relationship between and reciprocal effects of physical activity and depressive symptoms in adulthood.

Author Soli Dubash, a doctoral candidate in the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto, says, “It was surprising to find that being inactive today is not related to your future depression symptoms.” Present depression symptoms can negatively impact your physical activity levels two to five years later.

“Current depression symptoms may have lasting effects, but these may be less substantial than the effects of current physical activity.”

Numerous studies demonstrate the positive effects of regular walking, gardening, dancing, and attending to the gym on one’s physical and mental well-being. These benefits are comparable to those of antidepressant medications.

This conclusion is further supported by a recent study that demonstrates how increasing your physical activity can lift your mood and how weekly physical activity is linked to weekly symptoms of depression.

“People can make evidence-based decisions about their own health, the health of their loved ones, and the health of their community members by having a better understanding of the reciprocal relationship between mental health and physical activity,” adds Dubash.

“It’s important to allow people to reach their own decisions about the causes and consequences of physical activity and depression symptoms, and to grasp the impact that moving more—or less—can have on mood and overall health.”

From 1986 to 2011, the study followed a nationally representative sample of 3,499 adult U.S. citizens to evaluate the long-term effects of baseline differences in physical activity levels and depression symptoms, the stability of this relationship during adulthood, and the relationship between past physical activity and future physical activity and past depression symptoms and future depression symptoms.

To make sure that these estimations accurately reflect people’s experiences in the real world, this study employed a novel method for causal inference. The approach took individual biology, family and community circumstances, and life experience into account, among other missing elements, in order to account for persistent individual characteristics.

Although there has long been a connection between adult depressive symptoms and physical exercise, a novel method for tracking reciprocal relationships across time allows for the consideration of multiple competing theories.

“You may immediately ask how personal factors play into this reciprocal relationship—wouldn’t genetics or early life history matter?—and that’s what this method allows us to adjust for, compared with earlier techniques that would assume some evidence relevant to those important questions away,” says Dubash.

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