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Exercise Must Be Fun to Reduce Depression


If you have ever heard that you should make exercise fun if you want to lose weight, researchers now also say that physical exercise must be fun to reduce depression. People whose work is physically demanding, however, are no less likely to experience depression than those who have sedentary jobs.

Regular fun exercise can chase depression away

Many studies have explored the relationship between exercise and depression, and overall the consensus is that physical activity helps relieve depression and improves mood. One recent study, for example, found that patients with chronic health conditions who were physically inactive significantly improved their anxiety levels when they participated in exercise training. Other research involving dozens of studies found that people who exercise report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and lower levels of anger and stress.

Now researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, along with their colleagues in Norway, have determined that people who exercise regularly in leisure time—but not at work—are less likely to be depressed. They based their conclusions on a study of 40,401 Norwegian residents.

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The study participants were asked about their physical activities both during leisure time and at work. All the subjects also underwent a physical examination and responded to questions about their levels of depression and anxiety.

Researchers discovered that individuals who participated in regular physical activities during leisure time were less likely to experience symptoms of depression, regardless of the intensity of the activity. The more physical activity they enjoyed during their spare time, the less likely they were to be depressed.

Study participants who did not participate in leisure time physical activities, however, were twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression than their most physically active peers. Dr. Samuel Harvey, the lead researcher, noted that their findings indicate that individuals who regularly participate in leisure time physical activity, regardless of its intensity, “are less likely to have symptoms of depression.”

Harvey also pointed out that they discovered “that the context in which activity takes place is vital,” which includes benefits derived from being with friends and having social support. “This may explain why leisure activity appears to have benefits not seen with physical activity undertaken as part of a working day,” he said. Exercise that is fun, therefore, is an effective remedy for depression.

Harvey SB et al. British Journal of Psychiatry 2010; 197:357-64
Herring MP et al. Archives of Internal Medicine 2010 Feb; 170(4): 321-31
King's College London
Otto MW et al. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2007; 9(4): 287-94