A new study, published in the International Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, shows that even moderate increases in exercise could help prevent about one-fifth of cases of depression among women.
According to Discovery, the research is one of the largest studies to date to examine the effect of exercise on depression in South Africa. Globally, most of the research examining the mental health benefits of physical activity has taken place in high-income countries outside of Africa.
“For decades, research on depression has largely focused on treating depression in higher-income countries,” said Vitality’s Head of Wellness Dr Mosima Mabunda, co-author of the paper.
Significance of the study
“Our study is among the first outside of that context to track a large number of people over time to see how we might prevent depression.”
Discovery Vitality is a behaviour-change and wellness programme that incentivises Discovery Health members to adopt better health, driving and financial behaviours.
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Mabunda added that while there may be no silver bullet for reducing a person’s risk of depression, the research provides more evidence that physical activity has a vital role to play.
She says this is especially important in many countries like South Africa, where treatment remains out of reach for most people living with the condition.
“When we exercise regularly, fascinating things happen in our brains that can help us better deal with stress by, for instance, lowering levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol,” Mabunda explained.
“Regular physical activity has also been shown to reduce anxiety and improve feelings of self-worth.”
The depression epidemic
The World Health Organization estimates that depression affects one in 20 adults globally. In low-and middle-income countries more than 75% of people living with depression go untreated.
For at least a decade, studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of developing depression. In people who are already living with depression, research has also found that physical activity can reduce the severity of symptoms.
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