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Keeping Active May Keep Depression at Bay

You probably know that physical activity provides many benefits to physical health, including a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. However, research shows that exercise may boost mental health, too. For example, many studies have suggested that exercise reduces the risk for depression. Exercise is linked to less "psychological distress" — including depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Any exercise is beneficial, but higher activity levels, especially involving sports, seem more protective.

Activity of any intensity might ward off depression. Those who engage in both light and intense leisure activities are much less likely to have either depression alone or both depression and anxiety than their inactive peers. Workplace activities don't seem to have a protective effect. The evidence suggests that exercise's social benefits might play a larger role than its physical effects.

Having trouble squeezing physical activity into your schedule? Even light activity is better than nothing at all. Try these tips:

  • Turn exercise into a family outing with a bike ride or nature walk.

  • Take up a new hobby that will get you moving, such as gardening or yoga.

  • Join a class or sports team whose members count on you to show up.

  • Turn chores into a workout. Mow the lawn with a push mower, and do energetic housework.

  • Pedal on a stationary bike or do sit-ups and lunges while watching the evening news.