One Hour of Exercise a Week Can Be Enough to Prevent Depression

We know that exercise or even just a regular stroll outside can have massive benefits for both our mental and physical health.

But now researchers have delivered surprisingly good news on this front – a large data analysis has revealed that even one hour a week of any type of exercise can prevent depression in the future.

A large international team of researchers from the UK, Australia, and Norway looked at data from a huge Norwegian population health survey called HUNT, conducted between 1984 and 1997.

According to the team, studies have been increasingly pointing to a link between physical activity levels and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

But there’s always the question of whether there’s actually a ‘reverse causation’ going on – people with mental health issues may struggle to get enough exercise in the first place.

Sometimes such research also conflates depression and anxiety together, even though each can have different risk factors and biological mechanisms.

That’s why the team took to combing through data from HUNT in order to address “the uncertainty surrounding the relationship between exercise and depression and anxiety.”

“We’ve known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression,” says lead researcher, psychiatrist Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute and the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“But this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventative potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression.”

Using a sample of 33,908 healthy adults (no evidence of physical illness, nor depressive or anxiety disorders), the researchers obtained data on the baseline level of exercise for this large group of participants.

Then they looked at the HUNT study follow-up data from 9 to 13 years later, analysing the relationship between exercise levels and results from specialised questionnaires designed to detect symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Even after controlling for a range of potentially confounding variables (socioeconomic status, BMI, demographics and others), the data revealed that people who did no exercise at all had a 44 percent larger chance of developing depression in comparison to those who exercised at least one hour per week.

“Assuming the relationship is causal, 12 percent of future cases of depression could have been prevented if all participants had engaged in at least one hour of physical activity each week,” the researchers write in the study.

That’s huge, and good news for all of us who just can’t commit to daily gym sessions or a rigorous marathon training schedule because, well, life.

Furthermore, the researchers didn’t find a relationship between intensity of exercise and its protective effect in terms of depression. And neither did age or gender make a difference in the benefits.

“Most of the mental health benefits of exercise are realised within the first hour undertaken each week,” says Harvey.

These encouraging results didn’t extend to anxiety, though – the researchers found that exercise levels made no difference in whether participants would develop anxiety or not.

While this was a huge prospective study with a tight grasp on confounding variables, there were some limitations.

Importantly, the researchers were not able to exclude from their sample group people who’d had depression and anxiety episodes earlier in life, which means that some of the registered mental health episodes could have been a recurrence, rather than new onset illness.

“This has important consequences for the interpretation of the results and suggests that the actual protective effect of exercise may be even greater than that reported in this study,” they write.

Either way, this data falls in line with other research pointing in this same direction, and at just one hour a week it should be an achievable health goal for most.

“These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns,” says Harvey.

The research has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Instagram Could Make Teens Less (Or Is It More?) Depressed

A new study brings some welcome news for parents who are worried about their kids incessantly thumbing through glossy, filtered photos of their friends’ lives on Instagram. It turns out that adolescents’ use of Instagram is associated with a sense of greater closeness to their friends, which in turn lowers their likelihood of depression. But the same study gives parents something to worry about: It found that Instagram use is also linked to depressed mood.

“This study offers practitioners greater insight into the outcomes of adolescents’ Instagram use,” said author Eline Frison from the University of Leuven in Belgium. “More specifically, using Instagram can be both beneficial and harmful for adolescents’ well-being. If using Instagram stimulates adolescents’ closeness to friends, it is beneficial in the long run, but if Instagram is not capable of that stimulation, it is harmful in the long run.”

The study, which is as-yet unpublished and will be presented next month at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, surveyed 1,840 adolescents twice with six months in between about their use of Instagram. Researchers found that adolescents who used Instagram during the first survey were more likely to be depressed during the second survey. But here’s where things get more complicated: Adolescents who used Instagram during the first survey were also more likely to report closeness to their friends during the second survey and that, in turn, was negatively associated with depressed mood.

These findings add to a bevy of seemingly contradictory research about social media — some studies suggest it can make people feel more isolated, while others say it can help people feel more connected.

So, how can Instagram be associated with both lower and higher likelihood of depression? Well, researchers did not distinguish between types of Instagram use — for example, whether it was merely passive (meaning, an adolescent just browses their friends’ feeds) or active (meaning, they post comments on their friends’ photos). Past research has shown that different kinds of social media use can have different mental health outcomes — in general, active social media use is shown to have more positive impacts than passive use. As Frison told Vocativ in an email, “It is therefore possible that active Instagram use caused the positive outcomes … whereas passive Instagram caused the negative outcomes.” More research is needed, though, to determine exactly what is going on here.

In the meantime, young people and their parents can take heart that Instagram can, as with anything, be good or bad for you — it’s likely all in how you use it.

New Study Shows Yoga Combats Depression

As it turns out, yoga can do a lot more than just decorate your Instagram feed. Findings from Boston University School of Medicine point to yoga as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments for depression.

Almost half of individuals using antidepressants for Major Depressive disorder (MDD) do not achieve full remission. Researchers suggest yoga-based therapy as a promising treatment to fill the gap. The study found that study participants who participated in at least two 90-minute yoga classes per week had a significant decrease in depressive symptoms.

The study looked specifically into a technique called “Iyengar yoga” that focuses on precise alignment and breathing exercises. Researchers paired Iyengar yoga positions with transitions into periods of relaxation to enhance the potential relief effects for patients with MDD.

The research, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, randomized study participants with MDD into a high-dose group (three classes a week) and a low-dose group (two classes a week) for a 12-week yoga schedule. Both groups showed improvements in their depression symptoms, with subjects in the high-dose group testing higher in clinical improvements. Researchers used the Beck Depression Inventory-II as well as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale to track the progress of participants.

With this new information, those with Major Depressive Disorder may be able to ease their symptoms without the side effects of pharmaceutical treatments.

In a statement, the researchers concluded that the study, “supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in major depressive disorder in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms.”

A Good Diet Helps People Recover From Depression

Crane your head into the diet, health, and fitness aisle of your local Barnes & Noble, and it won’t take long before you come across dieting books that promise to help repair both body and mind. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find some that claim all our mental woes can be fixed with a new diet.

But nutrition science is a tricky thing to get right. Even once-common tenets of dieting advice — i.e., avoid nearly all fats, eating foods high in cholesterol is bad — have been scratched in recent years. And when it comes to our eating habits and our mental health, there’s been no smoking gun of a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two, just research that suggests the two are connected somehow. A recent study published last January in BMC Medicine, however, appears to be the strongest bit of evidence yet that our minds really are what we eat.

Sixty-seven volunteers dealing with moderate to severe depression were recruited by Australian scientists to take part in a randomized controlled trial. Half were given regular hour-long sessions with a dietician for 12 weeks, intended to help them stick to a modified version of the popular Mediterranean diet, while the other half received social support sessions that let them talk about whatever was on their mind instead. By trial’s end, the dieting group reported a significantly better improvement in their level of depression, and 32 percent even experienced a remission of their symptoms entirely, compared to 8 percent of people in the control group.

While the findings are based on a small group of people and preliminary, the authors wrote, they’re also the first to directly test whether an improved diet can improve our mental health. And if they hold up under scrutiny, it could signal the potential of using dietary counseling to help patients recover from depression, alongside standard treatments like medication and therapy.

Staples of the Mediterranean diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil, while the modified diet includes the addition of nuts and legumes. All the volunteers recruited had reported poor diets prior to the study’s start, but volunteers in the dieting group reported eating more of these healthier foods during the trial. Afterwards, the control group was offered a chance to join group nutritional counseling sessions.

While this sort of research can’t tell us why certain foods could relieve depression, it’s thought our diets influence inflammation and how we process stress, and even the kind of harmless bacteria found in our guts, all suspected factors in depression. Some research has also found that people with mental health problems tend to be more malnourished than the general public to begin with, which a good diet could obviously address. And the flurry of positivity that often surrounds changing our lives for the better could also account for a boost in mood, the researchers said.

Importantly, most of the volunteers were already being treated for depression while in the study. Meaning that, contrary to some more dubious claims tossed out by health gurus, a new diet alone shouldn’t be seen as the miracle solution to depression and other mental health disorders. Coupled with the emerging research showing that exercise can also keep us mentally fit, though, it’s fair to say that we can do a lot outside of the doctor’s office to stay on top of our brain game.

Workaholism Linked to ADHD and Depression

People who work too much may be more likely to have ADHD or depression, according to a new study from Norway.

Researchers found that, among the workaholics in the study, nearly 33 percent had symptoms of ADHD, compared with about 13 percent of non-workaholics. For the study, workaholics were defined as those who met seven criteria, including whether they work so much that it has negatively influenced their health, or they feel stressed when they are prohibited from working.

“Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics,” Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a clinical psychologist at the University of Bergen in Norway, said in a statement.

For example, nearly 26 percent of workaholics had symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), compared with about 9 percent among non-workaholics.

Moreover, about 34 percent of workaholics had symptoms of anxiety, compared with 12 percent of non-workaholics.

And nearly 9 percent of workaholics had symptoms of depression, compared with 2.6 percent of non-workaholics, according to the study, published May 18 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The results show that “taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychological or emotional issues,” Schou Andreassen said. But the study looked at people at just one point in time, so it cannot say whether working too much may lead to mental health problems, or whether having mental health problems may lead to working too much, or whether some other factor could lead to both.

It also isn’t clear what mechanism could be behind the potential link, the researchers said. “Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remains uncertain,” Schou Andreassen said.

For example, researchers speculated that people with ADHD might have to work harder and longer to compensate for possible issues caused by their condition. But it is also possible that their disorder makes them more likely to take on projects and tasks impulsively, which may result in taking on more work than they can realistically do during regular working hours.

As for the link between workaholism, anxiety and depression, working a lot might serve as an escape mechanism from negative feelings, the researchers speculated. But it could also be that people with anxiety may fear failing and therefore go over their work several times, which forces them to work longer. And people with depression may work more slowly due to their low energy levels and therefore have to compensate by working longer hours, the researchers said in their study.

In the study, researchers asked 16,426 people in Norway to rate how often during the past year they thought about how they might free up time to do more work, how often they worked to reduce negative feelings such as guilt or anxiety, and much more time they spent working than they initially intended.

Based on the answers, the researchers found that 1,287 (nearly 8 percent) in the study were workaholics.

When the researchers took a closer look at their data, they found that workaholism was linked to certain personal characteristics. People who were younger, single, highly educated and of a higher economic status showed greater levels of workaholism than people without these characteristics, the researchers found.

Workaholism was also more common among women, managers, self-employed people and people working in the private sector, the researchers found.

It should not be assumed that people who are successful at work do not have mental health problems, the researchers said.

Social Media Use Linked To Depression (Again)

Social media isn’t necessarily good for us. In fact, studies suggest that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms may have fueled a spike in suicide, addiction, and a host of other mental health problems. Now, a new study in Depression and Anxiety finds that social media use is strongly linked to depression among young adults living in the United States.

“Social media use was significantly associated with increased depression,” the authors write. “Given the proliferation of social media, identifying the mechanisms and direction of this association is critical.”

Perhaps the first case of social media-induced psychosis involved Jason Russell, the man behind the mega-viral Kony 2012 campaign that raised awareness about child soldiers in Uganda. Shortly after being catapulted into internet fame, Russell had an emotional meltdown on camera (which, incidentally, went almost as viral as Kony 2012). Doctors called it “reactive psychosis”, saying that his sudden fame had inspired a sort of temporary insanity.

But since then, even scientists have been slow to recognize that internet culture may have deleterious effects on our brains—at least in part because nobody wants to be, “waving a cane at electric light or blaming the television for kids these days,” as one Newsweek article put it. Indeed, a peer reviewer once famously rejected an article on the psychiatric study of internet abuse in 2006, quipping, “What’s next? Microwave abuse and Chapstick addiction?”

Fortunately, the medical community is now beginning to face the reality that social media plays such a prominent role in our lives that it would be sort of strange if it didn’t affect our mental health. In a nod to the possibility that internet use is harming us, the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry, includes an entry on Internet Addiction Disorder, with a request for “further study”.

And mental health experts have risen to the occasion. Since the new DSM was released in 2013, literally thousands of studies have examined mental health under the lens of internet culture and social media. The findings are sobering. Recent studies have linked our online sharing to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and obsessive behavior, especially in young adults.

But this new paper provides some of the strongest numbers yet suggesting that social media use is linked to depression among U.S. teens. For the study, researchers asked a surprisingly robust sample (roughly 40 percent non-white and 50 percent female—no small feat in science) of 1,787 American internet users between the ages of 19 and 32 to self-report the amount of time they spent on social media per day, and then rated their levels of depression using the celebrated Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Depression Scale.

They found a strong correlation between social media use and depression and, worse, that the more time spent on social media per day, the more likely young adults were to feel depressed. In fact, the most active social media users were over twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general public.

Now, some skepticism is certainly necessary. As with any correlation, the converse is just as likely to be true, so the proper conclusion could be that depressed teens are more likely to use social media, not that social media causes teens to feel depressed. And then there’s the classic causation problem—so this study cannot prove that social media causes anything at all.

But it certainly adds a strong, diverse sample of young adults to the growing body of research that suggests the Internet Age may have its downsides. Interestingly, some developers suspect the solution to the problem may be within the technology itself. At least one team has already launched a social media platform specifically engineered to combat depression, by encouraging people to share their feelings, fears, and stories online. “There are scores of social media platforms out there, but true happiness is a tremendously compelling feature,” Wired notes.

Whether true happiness can be contained within a TweetDeck or a Facebook feed, however, remains to be seen.