Gardening and moderate physical activities ‘may cut depression risk by 23%’

Moderate physical activities such as gardening, golf and walking are associated with a lower risk of depression, according to research.

An umbrella review of several studies has found low to moderate intensity exercise cuts the risk of depression by 23%, anxiety by 26%, and psychosis or schizophrenia by 27%.

The researchers said the findings, published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, add to evidence that physical activity is good for mental health.

But they added that in some cases, high intensity exercises may “worsen stress-related responses”.

Lead author Lee Smith, professor of public health at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Preventing mental health complications effectively has emerged as a major challenge, and an area of paramount importance in the realm of public health.

“These conditions can be complex and necessitate a multi-pronged approach to treatment, which may encompass pharmacological interventions, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes.

“These effects of physical activity intensity on depression highlight the need for precise exercise guidelines.”

For the study, the researchers looked at data from more than four million people which assessed the link between physical activity and episodes of depression.

They also investigated the link between exercise and anxiety involving more than 65,000 people, as well as the association between psychosis and schizophrenia and physical activity involving more than 30,000 people.

The researchers said their findings were consistent in both men and women, and across different age groups and across the world.

The team also said evidence was lacking for the association between high-intensity physical activity and reduced risk of depression.

Prof Smith added: “Moderate exercise can improve mental health through biochemical reactions, whereas high-intensity exercise may worsen stress-related responses in some individuals.

“Acknowledging differences in people’s response to exercise is vital for effective mental health strategies, suggesting any activity recommendations should be tailored for the individual.

“The fact that even low to moderate levels of physical activity can be beneficial for mental health is particularly important, given that these levels of activity may be more achievable for people who can make smaller lifestyle changes without feeling they need to commit to a high-intensity exercise programme.”