Exercise may be the antidote to depression as a result of pandemic lockdowns.

Researchers at University College London found people with low aerobic and muscular fitness are almost twice as likely to experience depression.


A byproduct of pandemic lockdowns and the isolation people feel as a result is an increase in the number of those suffering depression. An underlying issue that could be a contributing factor is poor fitness because researchers at University College London have found people with low aerobic and muscular fitness are almost twice as likely to experience depression.

The report published in the journal BMC Medicine also showed low fitness levels pointed to a 60 percent greater chance of anxiety during the seven-year follow-up period. This study was different than others on the subject because it used actual physical fitness measures rather than self-reported activity levels.

"Here we have provided further evidence of a relationship between physical and mental health, and that structured exercise aimed at improving different types of fitness is not only good for your physical health, but may also have mental health benefits," said lead study author Aaron Kandola. “Other studies have found that just a few weeks of regular intensive exercise can make substantial improvements to aerobic and muscular fitness, so we are hopeful that it may not take much time to make a big difference to your risk of mental illness."

The study involved more than 150,000 participants in the UK between the ages of 40 and 69. Their baseline aerobic fitness was tested on a stationary bike and their muscular fitness was measured through a grip-strength test. It also involved a questionnaire assessing depression and anxiety symptoms.

"Reports that people are not as active as they used to be are worrying, and even more so now that global lockdowns have closed gyms and limited how much time people are spending out of the house,” Kandola said. “Physical activity is an important part of our lives and can play a key role in preventing mental health disorders.”

A follow-up seven years later triggered another screening for depression and anxiety symptoms. Those who had high aerobic and muscular fitness at the start of the study had better mental health when measured years later.

Those with the lowest combined aerobic and muscular fitness at the outset had an 81 percent greater chance of depression or anxiety compared to those with high levels of overall fitness, including 98 percent higher odds of depression and 60 percent higher odds of anxiety.

"Our findings suggest that encouraging people to exercise more could have extensive public health benefits, improving not only our physical health but our mental health too,” said researcher Joseph Hayes. “Improving fitness through a combination of cardio exercise and strength and resistance training appears to be more beneficial than just focusing on aerobic or muscular fitness."

Click here to read more in the journal BMC Medicine.

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