Physical Activity: The best antidepressant?

Physical activity can be used to fight depression, both as a preventative measure and a treatment. As depression rates increase, so does the need for daily physical activity. In the past five years, diagnoses of depression have risen by 33 percent, according to a new report from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Young adults and adolescents saw the highest rates of change with 4.4 percent of 18-34 year-olds suffering from depression in 2016 (up from 3 percent in 2013), and 2.6 percent of 12-17 year-olds (up from 1.6 percent in 2013).

This trend is alarming for many reasons. First, people with depression tend to have other health issues. Researchers have yet to determine whether depression is brought on by existing health conditions or if chronic health problems are a result of depression. Another reason to take notice of rising depression diagnoses is that people with depression incur almost double the annual healthcare costs of people without depression. Third, because of increased incidence of other health problems, people with depression face poorer health conditions over time, resulting in decreased longevity and quality of life.

There is no single method for combatting the rise in depression rates, but there are steps we can take to decrease the risk of new diagnoses and help treat current depression patients. Physical activity can help reduce the incidence of depression among children and adults. Recent studies show that getting as little as ten minutes of exercise per day can have a positive effect on mood and emotions.

Weiyun Chen, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan conducted a review of several studies linking exercise to improved mood. “I think the indications are strong that exercise can contribute to happiness and, while anything helps, a bit more is probably better,” Chen noted. Her review of the studies indicated that people who exercise at least 30 minutes per day (meeting the CDC’s recommended daily activity rate) were 30 percent more likely to consider themselves happy than those who did not.

Reducing your risk of depression can have a significant impact on your economic health as well. In their recent “Health of America” series, Blue Cross Blue Shield noted that they paid, on average, $10,673 per year for people diagnosed with “major depression.” That’s less than half of  the $4,283 paid for people without depression.

Some of the discrepancy in costs can be traced back to higher incidence of chronic conditions among patients with depression. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield report, almost 30 percent of people diagnosed with depression suffer from four or more chronic conditions such as COPD or diabetes.

Lastly, depression can impact an individual’s overall quality of life and their longevity. Impaired cognitive and social abilities and prevent sufferers from achieving their full potential in the workplace, negatively impacting their earning potential. Decreased social abilities can also have a negative influence on the patient’s relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.

The effects of depression on a person’s overall longevity can be significant. Studies show that depression can increase mortality risk by increasing the patient’s risk of suicide, cardiovascular disease, and chronic health conditions.

With so much at stake, it’s time to make mental health a priority. We can begin by taking small steps to treat and prevent depression in our own communities. One of the easiest steps we can take is adding more physical activity into the daily routines of children and adults in our area. Simple changes like going for a walk after dinner, riding your bike to work, or signing up for a recreational sports team can have a major impact on your emotional health. While physical activity is not a cure-all for mental health conditions, it can be an effective way to counteract the rising rates of depression in our country.

Civic Park can help expand opportunities for people in our community to reap the mental, emotional, physical, and social benefits of being active. Programs at Civic Park will help dispel the idea that exercise is boring by providing fun, creative options for people of all ages to be more active and harness the mood-boosting power of physical activity!

Further Reading:

Blue Cross Blue Shield – “Major Depression: The Impact on Overall Health”

Forbes – “Cost of Treating Those with Depression Eclipses $10,000”

Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment – “The Increasing Burden of Depression”

New York Times – “Even a Little Exercise Makes us Happier”

Psychiatry Online – Physical Activity and Incident Depression”

Time – “Depression has Spiked by 33%…”