Why Exercise, Any Exercise, Is Beneficial to the Brain

Print Email

Doing aerobic activities, no matter how often or intense, contribute to mental wellness and provide protection against depression, according to the findings of a recently published study by the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The study found that regular leisure-time exercise of any intensity provides protection against depression but not anxiety. Relatively modest changes in levels of exercise may have important public mental health benefits and prevent a substantial number of new cases of depression, according to the group.

The findings by the Arlington, Virginia-based group buttress the belief among physicians and health experts that physical activity is a valuable part of any overall body wellness plan and is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and can provide some protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

The American Journal of Psychiatry selected what it called a healthy cohort of 33,908 adults from Norway for its study. They were chosen on the basis of having no symptoms of mental disorder or a limiting health condition and were followed for 11 years.

The purpose of the study was to address whether exercise provides protection against depression and anxiety, and if so, what is the level of intensity and amount of exercise required to gain protection.

The results of the study suggested that as little as one hour of exercise each week helped shield people against episodes of depression. The authors noted that the exercise could be just a moderately paced walk and the participants didn’t even have to become breathless, and they were less likely to report symptoms of depression compared with those who did not exercise.

The report said 12% of future cases of depression could have been prevented if all participants had engaged in at least one hour of physical activity each week.

Other studies have indicated that the more active you are, the better for your cognitive health. In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, people who did more moderate-intensity physical activity were more likely to have healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in their brains — a sign of healthy brain activity — than those who did less.