Can Exercise Really Prevent or Fight Depression?

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The benefits of exercise may go far beyond the physical. In fact, we already know that proper exercise can reshape your body, increase your capability and boost your confidence, but can we also use exercise to prevent depression?

Those of you who regularly exercise may feel positive mental benefits, but that does not necessarily mean those who have experienced clinical episodes of depression or who are genetically predisposed can use exercise to prevent depression.

Or can they?

A team of researchers out of Harvard set out to learn whether or not physical exercise could reduce the risk of episodes of depression in those genetically predisposed to them.

You’ll want to hear the results.

The researchers utilized hospital billing records to identify those with two or more incident episodes of depression within two years following a lifestyle survey. They then tested the effects of physical activity on incident depression.

What they found is extremely encouraging for all of us.

They found physical exercise to have a protective effect against incident depression not only among those with the highest polygenic risk, but also across all levels of genetic vulnerability.

Among those with high polygenic risk, more active individuals saw a reduction in episode prevalence from 12.7% to 8.1%.

Those with intermediate risk saw a reduction from 9.1% to 6.5 % and those with low risk saw a reduction from 8.7% to 5.6%.

Interestingly, the 8.1% observed in the high-risk but highly active group compared quite similarly to those in the inactive low-risk group (8.7%).

Does that mean physical exercise can prevent depression to such an extent that it is an equalizing factor between being high risk and low risk?

Possibly, but as usual more research needs to be done. In particular, research that determines a causal effect rather than an observational study such as this one.

It should be noted, though, that not all forms of exercise showed a correlation with lowered prevalence of incident depression. Walking, running, and both low- and high-intensity forms of exercise were all observed to be positively correlated. Jogging, biking, racquet sports, and swimming, however, did not show significant associations.

Of course this does not mean they are not without benefits. It only means they were not observed in this particular study to positively correlate with lowered incidents of depression.

Long story short, it appears we have not only another reason to incorporate exercise in our lives, but yet another arrow in our quiver to fight against or possibly even prevent incidents of depression.

Remember: Never give up and never accept your illness as your fate!


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The opinions expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. Please consult a physician or health care professional for your specific health care or medical needs.

Please talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise or diet program, including those found on this website. The information provided on this site is not intended as a substitute for consultations with your doctor nor is it intended to provide medical advice specific to your condition. (click to read our full disclaimer)

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