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Physical Activity and Depression

Physical Activity and Depression

A new study from researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital found that physical activity can protect against episodes of depression, even in those that are genetically predisposed. 

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. In 2017, approximately 17.3 million adults had at least one depressive episode; This makes up nearly 7.1% of all U.S. adults. The prevalence of depressive episodes was highest between the ages of 18-25. (NSDUH, 2017)

The study from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is the first to show how physical activity influences depression in those with a genetic predisposition. Data was collected from nearly 8,000 participants and they completed a survey about their lifestyle habits. Questions regarding physical activity were included in these surveys. Researchers then got to work on plotting millions of data points, and calculated each participant's genetic risk score.

They found that the individuals with higher genetic risk scores were more likely to be diagnosed with depression in the next few years. The interesting thing they found thanks to the lifestyle surveys is that people who were more physically active were less likely to develop depression even if they had a genetic predisposition. High levels of physical activity was found to be protective even in those with the highest genetic risk score for depression. 

The researchers believe that their study proves that genes don't determine destiny; physical activity can help to reduce the added risk of depression in those at a higher risk for the disorder. "On average, about 35 additional minutes of physical activity each day may help people to reduce their risk and protect against future depression episodes." said Karmel Choi, PhD, of MGH and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Physical activity is something everyone can participate in to prevent as well as protect against depressive episodes. It is the hope of researchers at MGH to continue using genomic research to learn about other modifiable risk factors of depression and other mental health disorders. 

Find the study here: 

Massachusetts General Hospital. (2019, November 5). Physical activity may protect against new episodes of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2019 from