Physical exercise has long been proved to help combat symptoms of depression, but can it actually prevent the disease from developing?
A new study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Psychiatry journal claims that, yes, exercise can play an important, but casual, role in reducing one's risk of depression.
"Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults," published Jan. 23, assessed the genetic data of more than 611,583 American adults who had participated in various genomic studies. Specifically, the researchers considered each person's genomes (an organism's genetic material), their medical history and their self-reported physical activity levels.
These data sets, when juxtaposed, showed the researchers that there are, in fact, gene variants tied to a person's inclination to exercise and their risk of developing depression.
Those individuals with a propensity to physical activity showed genetic markers that corresponded with a reduced risk of depression. However, the researchers also found that that those with genetic markers related to depression were not necessarily averse to exercise.
The study states: "Using genetic instruments identified from large-scale [genome-wide association studies, robust evidence supports a protective relationship between objectively assessed—but not self-reported—physical activity and the risk for [major depressive disorder]. Findings point to the importance of objective measurement of physical activity in epidemiologic studies of mental health and support the hypothesis that enhancing physical activity may be an effective prevention strategy for depression."
Several recent studies have illuminated the relationship between exercise and the human mind. Research has shown that regular aerobic activity can improve the brain's functional age and help slow physical frailty later in life, while negative exercise-related experiences can actually prompt sedentary behavior.