It is common knowledge that exercise is good for physical health, yet a new study finds that it can also help curtail depression episodes, even in those with enhanced genetic risk.
It is common knowledge that exercise is good for physical health, but a new study shows that it can also help curtail episodes of depression, even in those who have an increased genetic risk.
New study suggests that any physical exercise can drastically reduce the risk of episodes of depression.
The research is the first of its kind, according to researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The study, which appears in the journal Depression and Anxiety, indicates that even when there is a greater genetic risk, physical activity can have a positive effect on the risk of depression.
Lead author Karmel Choi, Ph.D. and her colleagues consulted data from nearly 8,000 Partners Biobank participants on genomic and electronic health records.
Choi and team worked through millions of data points over 2 years to find people with depression-related diagnoses.
Additionally, for each participant, the researchers calculated a genetic risk score, which included combining information around the entire genome of the person to produce a score to show their genetic risk of developing depression.
Looking at the participants whose score showed a higher genetic risk of depression, the researchers discovered that these individuals were more likely to receive a diagnosis in the next 2 years at some point.
The team also discovered, however, that those who were physically active were less likely to experience depression, even though they had a higher risk score for depression.
Even those with the highest risk scores for genetic depression were less likely if they had higher levels of physical activity to develop depression.

“On average, about 35 additional minutes of physical activity each day may help people to reduce their risk and protect against future depression episodes,” Choi says.
In reality, the researchers found that the risk of another depressive episode dropped by 17 percent for each additional 4-hour workout per week.
Both high-intensity workouts, including aerobic exercise or exercise machines, and low-intensity activity, such as yoga or stretching, reduced the risk of depression.
Dr. Jordan Smoller, senior author, adds: “In general, our field has been lacking actionable ways of preventing depression and other mental health conditions. I think this research shows the value of real-world healthcare data and genomics to provide answers that can help us to reduce the burden of these diseases.”
Depression is a common but serious mental health issue, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Symptoms include a persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; and trouble concentrating, recalling, or making decisions. A individual may feel irritable, tired, and lose all interest in previously enjoyed activities.
Individuals affected may also experience physical symptoms, including discomfort and pain, digestive problems, cramps, and changes in appetite or weight.
Not everyone has all the depression symptoms. Some people may have only a few symptoms, while others may have many.
Researchers believe depression has multiple potential causes, including genetic, biological, social, and psychological factors.
It can affect people of any age, and in those with stress, a personal or family history of depression, or some physical diseases, the risk may be higher. Major changes in life, trauma, and certain medications may also increase the risk.
A physical activity prescription could be a valuable piece in a doctor’s toolkit not only for all patients, as everyone can benefit from increased physical activity, but especially for those who are genetically predisposed to develop depression.
“We believe there may be many factors [that] could be part of an overall strategy for improving resilience and preventing depression,” Choi states.


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