Just One Hour of Exercise a Week Might Help Keep Depression Away

Mental Health

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

There is overwhelming evidence that the body and the mind are intertwined. And there are many healthcare professionals who conclude that an unhealthy body may reflect an unhealthy or undisciplined mind. So it’s safe to conclude that a healthy body increases your chance of having a healthy mind.  

Besides nutrition, one way to maintain a healthy body is by doing some form of physical activity.  I will admit that I am not a fan of intense workout sessions with a trainer, but I like to hike with my dogs and play golf. For me, these activities are a form of therapy and elevate my mood. My elevated mood is likely due to endorphins  - chemicals released from the brain during strenuous exercise. Endorphins help relieve pain and may also promote feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

But with the holidays fastly approaching and hectic work schedules, we may start to feel bad that we are not allocating appropriate time for our individual workout routines. For example, I have to admit that my activity levels are starting to drop.

A recent study gives me hope that even a reduced workout schedule might still do wonders for my mental health. Even just an hour of exercise each week may help prevent depression.

In a study that examined 33,908 overall healthy adults who had no signs of having a mental illness, researchers found that 12% of future cases of depression could have been prevented if all participants had engaged in at least one hour of physical activity per week. The participants were followed for 11 years.

The study also found that “[u]ndertaking regular leisure-time exercise was associated with reduced incidence of future depression but not anxiety. The majority of this protective effect occurred at low levels of exercise and was observed regardless of intensity.”

Depression and anxiety often have similar symptoms, but perhaps the biggest difference between these disorders is that depression usually involves more feelings of hopelessness and despair, while anxiety involves an overwhelming sense of fear and panic.

For tips on coping with anxiety, click here.

According to additional notes from the study, “[t]hose who reported no exercise at baseline had 44% higher odds of developing depression compared with those who were exercising 1-2 hours a week.”

Depression continues to be a major concern in the United States. It is reported that 1 in 5 people suffer from depression. So it is encouraging to know that there is a positive relationship between even relatively short periods of exercise and depression.

And when it comes to performing a physical activity, always talk to a competent healthcare professional about the exercises that are appropriate for your age and your health status. If you have asthma, a heart condition or any other health issues, you should discuss your exercise options with a doctor before you hit the gym or go for a run.

Finally, remember that in addition to doing physical activities, you can also be proactive about depression and anxiety through nutrition. Below are a few minerals that might help:

  • Magnesium. Several studies have shown an improvement in the severity of symptoms of depression when study participants were given 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime. Symptoms that improved included irritability, insomnia, hopelessness and anxiety. Foods containing magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.
  • Chromium. This mineral is a metallic element that humans require in very small amounts. We may not need a lot of chromium, but a study of patients with atypical depression showed that 70 percent who took 600 mcg of chromium picolinate had improvement in their symptoms. Foods high in chromium include broccoli, free range eggs, sweet potatoes, corn, oats and grass fed beef.
  • Iron. Decreased levels of iron can result in apathy, depression and fatigue. Many women experience depression during childbearing years (25-45), and one reason for this could be that women lose iron during menstruation. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, seafoods, beans, spinach (and other leafy greens), peas, cherimoyas and iron-fortified cereals.
  • Selenium. Depression, as a result of selenium deficiency, has been established in at least five different studies. Depression may be the result of oxidative stress, which is why selenium may be helpful. Selenium has antioxidant properties. Foods high in selenium include Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna, halibut, sardines and chicken.
  • Zinc. Many clinical studies have been done to determine the relationship between zinc and depression. Zinc levels are generally low in those with major depression. Lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach and chicken are some foods rich in zinc.
  • Copper. This mineral is important in depression because it is a component of the enzymes that metabolize brain chemicals that help you respond to stress, feel happy and be alert. Copper rich foods include sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, dark chocolate, beef liver and asparagus.
  • Manganese. This mineral is a large component of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and was found to be low in the depressive episode of bipolar patients compared to controls. Treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine increased the level of this enzyme. Dietary sources of manganese include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, tea, wheat germ, whole grains, legumes and pineapples.
  • Calcium. There is no clear relationship between calcium and depression, but some studies found low calcium in depressed patients and others found elevated levels. However, you cannot ignore calcium’s role because it affects the levels of magnesium in your body. For foods rich in calcium, click here.

In order to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of the essential nutrients that may help with depression and other health issues, it is important to get a nutrition test. Testing is necessary to determine whether you have any nutrient deficiencies or imbalances, despite eating a healthy diet. For example, taking certain medications, your age and even your genes may affect your ability to absorb certain nutrients.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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