Study: Just an Hour of Weekly Exercise Could Prevent Depression

Mature couple walks along path strewn with autumn leaves holding hand of young grandchildEven a single hour of exercise each week could reduce the risk of depression, according to a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry. The study found that any level of exercise intensity could reduce the risk of developing depression.

This study is the largest of its kind to date. Numerous previous studies also support the role of exercise in mental health. A 2016 study found that exercise could alleviate depression associated with dementia. A trio of 2016 studies found that exercise could both lower depression rates and treat depression.

Exercise to Treat Depression

The study followed a cohort of 33,908 Norwegian adults for 11 years. The participants were considered to be healthy: They had no diagnosed mental health conditions, nor did they have any serious physical health conditions. Researchers gathered data on participants’ levels of depression and anxiety, activity levels, and other lifestyle factors during the study.

The study found that any participation in regular exercise reduced the likelihood of future depression. The effects did not depend on exercise intensity or a demanding activity schedule. Rather, most participants had relatively low levels of exercise, and their mental health improved with as little as one hour per week of exercise. Overall, the results suggest that exercise could eliminate 12% of future depression cases.

The study, contrary to some previous research, did not find that exercise reduced anxiety.

How Does Exercise Fight Depression?

The study looked at a handful of mechanisms through which exercise might improve mental health. Researchers found that some popular biological explanations did not account for the benefits. For instance, changes in the parasympathetic nervous system did not appear to explain the reduction in depression. A small portion of the reduction, however, might be due to increased physical health and greater opportunities for socialization. Yet in the study, this only accounted for a small portion of the effects of exercise.


Harvey, S. B., Overland, S., Hatch, S. L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A., & Hotopf, M. (2017). Exercise and the prevention of depression: Results of the HUNT cohort study. American Journal of Psychiatry. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223

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  • Marta

    October 9th, 2017 at 11:45 AM

    To some extent I completely agree with this, as I take a walk every single day that I can get out and do it and some of my best thoughts can be had during those times. With that being said I have still experienced bouts of depression at varying times in my life. So for me maybe it did not help to completely prevent it from happening but it is a way of coping with it that helps me feel better when it tries to take me down again.

  • Macy

    October 10th, 2017 at 8:56 AM

    Listen, I am all about the workout and have not ever one time post working out felt any regret about dedicating that time to it.
    But was it easy to get into this habit? Not really.
    I know that most of te time we are looking for whatever the quick fix might be and there will be people, and I used to be one of them, who would say that they didn’t have time to commit to an exercise program and would rather do something else instead.
    But what I have learned along the way is that this is the easiest for of taking an antidepressant that you can get, it just takes a while to get to where this is a habit that you actually want to do every single day.

  • gertrude

    October 12th, 2017 at 8:46 AM

    What happens though for the people who have a difficult time physically getting up and getting moving like me? I have arthritis and am old, so even though I know that going out for a walk probably would make me feel better I don’t have the strength to do it nor do I have someone who could go with me to help me.

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