A 20-minute brisk walk can reduce risk of depression, study finds

University of Limerick experts say benefits can be derived with less than the 30-minute daily activity recommended by WHO

A 20-minute brisk walk a day, for five days a week, can reduce the risk of depression, according to a new study.

Experts at the University of Limerick (UL) found that it takes less than the 30 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by the World Health Organisation to derive antidepressant benefits.

The research findings associated 20 minutes a day of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” – like a brisk walk for five days a week – with a 16 per cent lower rate of depressive symptoms and 43 per cent lower odds of major depression.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Eamon Laird, said the research group wanted to identify the lowest dose of activity that could be associated with protection from depression and its symptoms.

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“However,” he said, “there is no agreement on how much physical activity is protective for depression overall,” and longer physical activity still means greater protection.

Thirty minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity resulted in a 7 per cent lower rate of depressive symptoms and 44 per cent lower odds of major depression. Up to 120 minutes a day were linked with a 23 per cent lower risk of depressive symptoms and 49 per cent lower odds of major depression.

The findings remained unchanged after considering factors such as biological sex, education, age, smoking and alcohol, obesity, antidepressant use, and the presence of chronic illness.

According to Dr Laird, such findings are very relevant as depression is becoming increasingly common among the older adult population. “People should try and build it into a routine with hobbies and with others as well, as social interaction is also known to have mental health benefits,” he said. “But this is only one component – nutrition and healthy lifestyle are also crucial.”

“We are not advocating for lower physical activity,” added Dr Matthew Herring from the UL health research centre. “But this study implies improvements in protection against depression among older adults can be made by engaging in lower activity than the overall recommended.”

Depression causes 5-10 per cent of the burden of all diseases in Europe, and it can cause major chronic conditions such as cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease and chronic pain, as well as increase risk of death and suicide.

For UL health experts, identifying potentially easy and low-cost solutions remains “a top priority”.

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