It’s estimated that more than 17 million adults in the United States have at least one major depressive episode in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
And while depression, and treatment options, look different for everyone, a new study found that increased levels of physical activity can help prevent future episodes of depression, even for those who are genetically predisposed to the condition.
The study, conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that people who engaged in several hours of physical activity each week were were less likely to have future depressive episodes.
“Our findings strongly suggest that, when it comes to depression, genes are not destiny and that being physically active has the potential to neutralize the added risk of future episodes in individuals who are genetically vulnerable,” researcher Karmel Choi said.
The study looked at data from about 8,000 participants who recorded their lifestyle habits, including time spent exercising, in a survey. They also calculated risk scores for the participants based on genes and compared health records tracked over a two-year period.
A separate research team concluded last year that strength training was the form of physical fitness most likely to help combat depression.
But the newly released study says physical activity in many forms — including fast-paced activities like dance and weight lifting or lower level exercises like yoga and stretching — can aid in staving off depressive symptoms.
Researchers are continuing to analyze the dataset to provide further solutions to help reduce the risk of depression, according to the study.
Approximately 1 in 7 college students is diagnosed with depression, according to researchers.
"We believe there may be many factors could be part of an overall strategy for improving resilience and preventing depression," Choi said. "The magnitude of depression around the world underscores the need for effective strategies that can impact as many people as possible."
Nationally, 1 in 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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