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Exercise –at Any Intensity– Reduces Depression

Compelling evidence for a large prospective cohort study

Regular exercise at any intensity level—even just one hour per week—can help reduce depression, a large population study found.1

A group of researchers from University of New South Wales (Australia), King’s College London (England), and Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Norway) examined data from the Nord-Trøndelag Health (HUNT) Study—a large-scale, long-term, population-based health surveys in Norway—to understand whether exercise provided protection against depression and anxiety and whether intensity and amount of exercise mattered.

After evaluating longitudinal data from nearly 34,000 healthy Norwegian adults over a period of 11 years, the researchers found that regular leisure-time exercise was associated with reduced incidence of future depression. More interestingly, even low levels of exercise were protective against depression. From the population standpoint, they calculated that 12% of cases of depression could be prevented if everyone engaged in one hour of exercise each week.

Even though exercise was effective in preventing depression, the data did not find a link between exercise and anxiety reduction. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that even a little bit of exercise could go a long way in improving physical and mental wellbeing in the general population.

Why is this Clinically Relevant?

  • Clinicians should inform patients the benefits of exercise in depression management (and many other health conditions) and encourage patients to engage in regular exercise at an intensity level that suits the individual

Link to abstract


  1. Harvey SB et al. Exercise and the prevention of depression: results of the HUNT cohort study. Am J Psychiatry. 2017;175(1):28-36.

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