The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Risk of Depression

December 14, 2023

The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Risk of Depression

There are numerous reports suggesting that exercise benefits mental health. Distancing Article has also introduced a study that directly compares the effects between antidepressants and running exercise. So, now we have realized that we must move our bodies purely for the sake of managing our 'mind'. But then, how much exercise is necessary? For those with depression, running for at least twice a week over a span of 16 weeks was effective. What about in general cases? How much exercise is required to maintain mental health? This has been summarized for those who want to exercise just enough for mental health maintenance.

In 2022, JAMA Psychiatry compared the relationship between physical activity and the risk of depression. In short, they assessed how the risk of depression decreased depending on the intensity of exercise. The results were as follows:

The x-axis represents the intensity of the exercise, and the y-axis reflects the level of depression risk. The risk of developing depression was set at 1 when no exercise was undertaken. Upon examining the intervals, exercising at about 4mMET-h/wk decreased depression risk by 18%, and exercise at about 9mMET-h/wk reduced it by 25%. As one can see from the graph, beyond a certain level of exercise intensity, the effect of reducing depression risk by exercising becomes fairly consistent. This benchmark is around 15mMET-h/wk. In other words, if you want to exercise just 'enough to be beneficial for mental health', exercising around 15mMET-h/wk should suffice (of course, physical activity has many additional benefits. Exercising more than this will be of great help too).

So, what does that level look like? Let's take a look. All activities are on a weekly basis.

  • 1mMET-h/wk: Light walking (24 minutes), Household chores (30 minutes)
  • 5mMET-h/wk: Brisk walking (100 minutes), Gentle yoga (120 minutes)
  • 10mMET-h/wk: Jogging (85 minutes), Swimming (100-120 minutes)
  • 15mMET-h/wk: Jogging (130 minutes), Cycling (110 minutes), Aerobic dance (120 minutes)

To conclude, if you cycle for about 30 minutes three times a week, jog for 30 minutes four times a week, or do 60 minutes of aerobic dance twice a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by about 30% compared to others. Interestingly, even just walking briskly for 100 minutes can lower your risk of depression by about 20%.

So let's move. If your mind is in turmoil, feeling down and lethargic, don't just lie in bed and worry. Go outside as if it was a doctor's prescription. Take a brisk 30-minute walk. Observe the expressions on the faces of the people you pass by, feel the wind brushing against your cheeks, and listen to the loud horns of the cars. When you return, you might find yourself gradually emerging from the swamp of depression.


Pearce M, Garcia L, Abbas A, Strain T, Schuch FB, Golubic R, Kelly P, Khan S, Utukuri M, Laird Y, Mok A, Smith A, Tainio M, Brage S, Woodcock J. Association Between Physical Activity and Risk of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2022 Jun 1;79(6):550-559. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.0609. PMID: 35416941; PMCID: PMC9008579.

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