Regular Physical Activity and Mental Health Benefits – Context Matters!

Individuals who engage in regular physical activity – regardless of intensity – are less likely to experience symptoms of depression, according to new research published in the November issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Of particular importance, researchers studying this issue found that this physical activity needs to be taken in people’s leisure time if they are to reap the benefits. The study demonstrated that those who exert themselves during working hours, by doing lots of walking or lifting for example, are no less likely to be depressed than people with sedentary jobs.

The team discovered that the more people engaged in physical pursuits during their off-work time, the less likely they were to be depressed. And those who were not active in their leisure time were almost twice as likely to have symptoms of depression compared to the most active individuals. Also, the intensity of the exercise made no difference. Even people who exerted themselves minimally without breaking into a sweat or getting out of breath were less likely to manifest depressive symptoms.

The study’s conclusion: People who engage in leisure time physical activity, regardless of intensity level, are less likely to have symptoms of depression. Also, the context in which the activity occurs is paramount and the social benefits associated with the exercise, like making friends and increased social support, are more important in understanding how physical exertion may be linked to mental health benefits than biological determinants of fitness.

So get out there and exercise, low impact or high impact, it makes no difference. But remember to do it in your leisure time to feel the benefits.

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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