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.

Exercising In The Scorching Florida Heat May Not Be Giving You The Benefits You Think It Is

Are you slogging through your workouts in these dog days of summer in the hopes that all of this hot-weather exercise will earn you extra fitness points come fall? You may be in for a sad surprise. A new study found that exercising in the heat may not be giving you the benefits you think it is. In fact, you may be better off moving your workouts indoors until those temps come back down.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha looked at the overall effect of exercise in different temperatures to get a better idea of how the body responds to workouts in various temperatures. They focused on the mitochondria (if you remember from high school biology, mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells; the energy needed by every cell in your body is produced in the mitochondria.)

For the study, which was notably small, researchers recruited 36 participants and took tissue samples before and after their workouts in hot (91 degrees Fahrenheit), cold (44 degrees F), and temperate conditions (68 degrees F). Their initial results showed that when exercisers did their workouts in the heat, there was no development in the mitochondria.

“In fact, the response [in heat is] about the same as if no exercise had occurred,” lead researcher Dustin Slivka, director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

It’s important to point out that these results were compiled after just one workout. Researchers are planning to continue tracking the exercisers to see if a period of heat acclimation might show more promising results in the mitochondria. They hope to publish their research in 18 months, after they’ve had time to follow the participants for longer periods of time working out at various temperatures.

But at the moment, they noted that exercising in cool or room temperatures might just be more effective than working out in the heat.

Should you use this study as an exercise to table your workouts until the fall? Nope. But if you are melting in the heat, you might consider this verification that it’s time to move your next workout indoors.

How Regular Exercise May Make Your Body ‘Younger’

Getting regular exercise may help slow the aging of your body’s cells, a new study finds.

Compared with the people in the study who didn’t exercise at all, the highly active people had a “biological age” that was about nine years younger, said study author Larry Tucker, a professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University in Utah.

To reap these benefits of exercise, you’d need to spend 30 to 40 minutes running, five days a week, according to the study.

In the study, Tucker looked at data on more than 5,800 people ages 20 to 84 who had taken part in a health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey, called National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, is aimed at collecting data on people’s lifestyle, health, physical activity and nutrition.

In addition to filling out questionnaires, the people who had participated in the survey had samples of their DNA collected by CDC investigators between 1999 and 2002.

The purpose of this DNA collection was to measure the lengths of people’s telomeres, which are molecular “caps” found on the ends of chromosomes that protect the genetic structures from damage. Telomeres get shorter over time, but the rates of this shortening vary from person to person. Therefore, telomeres are considered a marker of a person’s “biological age,” which refers to the age of that person’s cells rather than his or her chronological age.

Although the CDC survey had data on both physical activity levels and telomere length, the relationship between the two had not been analyzed.

In the study, Tucker looked into this relationship, and found that the people who had high physical activity levels had significantly longer telomeres than the people who did not exercise at all and the people who exercised less frequently and less intensely.

In particular, the men in the study who exercised at the intensity and duration equivalent to 40 minutes of running five days a week, and the women who exercised at the equivalent of 30 minutes of running five days a week, had telomeres whose length suggested their cells were nine years younger than the cells of the people who did not exercise at all.

Tucker also compared the telomere length of the people in the highly active group with the telomere length of the people who also exercised but at lower levels. In this case, he found that the difference in cellular aging between the two groups was seven years.

This finding suggests that “for telomeres, taking it to the next level of activity seems important,” Tucker told Live Science.

In other words, “If you want to see a real difference in slowing your biological aging, it appears that a little exercise won’t cut it,” Tucker said in a statement. “You have to work out regularly at high levels.”

It is not clear why being highly active is linked to having longer telomeres, but previous research has shown that exercise may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which have been implicated in the more rapid shortening of telomeres, Tucker said.

A previous study found that professional athletes had higher levels of activation of an enzyme called telomerase, which stabilizes telomeres, compared with people who didn’t exercise.

Exercise In A Pill? Scientists Have Evidence It Could Happen Someday

High on the wish list of technological marvels, right behind guilt-free meat and hoverboards, is a way to avoid exercise entirely and still keep yourself healthy.

Amazingly, at least according to a new study published Wednesday in Cell Metabolism, such a thing may not be so far-fetched after all.

Researchers from the California-based Salk Institute used mice to learn how they could coax the body to produce more of a protein called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor delta, or PPARD. Their earlier work had found that mice genetically altered to constantly pump out PPARD resembled those who regularly exercised: They could run longer, avoid weight gain, and use insulin more effectively.

This time around, the researchers enlisted normal mice raised to be sedentary coach potatoes. They dosed them with a chemical compound known to increase PPARD levels for eight weeks, and found they could get the same gym rat effect, without the need for exercise. The findings were also a bit of a redemption for the team — earlier research of theirs that used a lower dose of the chemical for a shorter time failed to get the same tantalizing results.

Compared to a group of untouched mice, the chemically-boosted mice were able to run on average 70 percent longer before becoming fully exhausted, from 160 minutes to 270 minutes.

“Exercise activates PPARD, but we’re showing that you can do the same thing without mechanical training,” said lead author Weiwei Fan, a research associate at the Institute, in a statement. “It means you can improve endurance to the equivalent level as someone in training, without all of the physical effort.”

More intriguing, from the researchers’ perspective, is how PPARD seems to boost the mice’s endurance. It triggered genes that regulated when they burned their stores of fat, as expected, but it also suppressed other genes that urged their muscles to use glucose, their main source of energy. Presuming these same effects would translate over to people, the researchers noted, that suggests PPARD tells our muscles to avoid using glucose for the sake of keeping our brain fueled. And that then forces our muscles to switch to its secondary fuel of fat, allowing us to run longer.

Another study also published in Cell Metabolism this month found that PPARD’s influence on our fitness could go even deeper.

They found that PPARD seems to help the body maintain its level of mitochondria in skeletal muscle cells, as well as increase mitochondria following exercise. Mitochondria are considered the powerhouses of the cell, since they break down nutrients to provide fuel. Our body produces fewer mitochondria as we age, scientists have found, which could help explain why people become less active as they reach middle age.

Right now, the dream of using a pill to exercise is still just that, and no single study, especially one involving mice, should raise our hopes all too much. But human trials of drugs that increase PPARD are a likely reality in the near future, the Salk researchers said. Their chemical booster could theoretically be used to help people with chronic conditions like obesity and type-2 diabetes better burn fat, for instance.

Get Out and Go For A Run, If You Want To Live Longer, Researchers Say

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that running was bad for me, I’d buy a closet full of new running gear and move to a tropical location where I could run on sandy beaches every day. Running has a bad rap as being bad for the knees and joints and even damaging to your heart and immune system. But new research has found what most runners already know — running is actually beneficial to your overall health. Now we have the numbers to prove it.

The recent study, published last month in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, took a close look at running and its effect on human health, for better or for worse. The research team, which included sports researchers and cardiologists from Iowa State University, South Carolina State University, and Harvard Medical School, looked at running as a lifestyle factor and attempted to crunch the numbers on whether or not it could be beneficial and if so, by how much.

By reviewing large-scale epidemiological studies, the team concluded that running consistently adds about three years to your life. And we’re not talking huge amounts of running, either. They noted that running just 2.5 hours per week for 50 years would be all you need to boost your lifespan. That works out to an additional seven hours of living for every hour spent running. Not a bad investment, right?

It’s worth noting that the authors of the study have also recently published reviews cautioning runners about the dangers of too much running. So it’s safe to assume that they weren’t trying to skew the data in any particular direction. (It’s also worth noting that these numbers are based upon self-reported data from respondents regarding their levels of exercise. So take it all with a grain of salt.)

Still, when the researchers compared the health of runners, non-runners, and those who are active but do not run, running came out on top as an indicator of longevity. In the study, researchers broke the participants into four groups:

  1. Active runners (who got at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week through running and other activities.)
  2. Active non-runners (who exercised for at least 75 minutes each week but did not run.)
  3. Inactive non-runners (who did not get the minimum of 75 minutes of exercise each week)
  4. Inactive runners (who ran, but not enough to get 75 minutes of exercise each week.)

Using the inactive non-runners as a baseline, the team found that active runners were 43 percent less likely to die during the study, even when all other factors (such as age, education, location, etc.) were accounted for, whereas active non-runners were only 12 percent less likely to die than their couch potato peers. Even the inactive runners — those who ran but did not get as much exercise each week as those who were active in ways other than running — fared better in the long run; they were 30 percent less likely to die during the study than those who did not exercise at all.

According to this data, running is good for your health and a great way to add some extra years to your life. Now if only I had those nickels…

10,000 Steps a Day Might Not Be Enough

New research released in The International Journal of Obesity advises increasing your daily step count if you are trying to slash your risk of heart disease. The journal suggests that the previously recommended 10,000 steps per day is simply not enough.

The study included 111 Scottish postal workers who engaged in various levels of daily physical activity. Some worked sedentary desk jobs in an office, while others worked as delivery men, walking miles per day.

Upon enrollment in the study, the postal workers were assessed for risk factors for coronary heart disease, and their blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, waist circumference and BMI were all recorded. They were then given activity trackers, which they were told to wear 24 hours a day, for seven days. The results were then recorded for analysis.

The postal workers who lead sedentary lifestyles had larger waistlines, higher triglyceride levels and lower HDL cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol). The postal workers who were out delivering packages by foot had smaller waistlines, lower triglyceride levels, and higher HDL cholesterol. After further analysis, it was reported that the best results belonged to workers who walked 15,000 steps per day (or spent seven or more hours upright). These workers had normal metabolic characteristics. They had no heightened risk for heart disease.

The downside to these findings: 15,000 steps a day is a lot of steps.

“The levels associated with zero risk factors in the current study…would be challenging and difficult to sustain unless incorporated into occupations,” the study’s authors said.

However, the researchers stressed the fact that any amount of exercise you can squeeze into your daily routine is beneficial. Even if you’re not reaching 15,000 steps daily, getting up from your desk and walking during your lunch hour or any other free time is important in regards to decreasing your risk of heart disease.

Exercising Regularly Can Decrease the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

Weight gain is common for those undergoing breast cancer treatment, but putting on pounds can be extremely dangerous for patients with breast cancer. According to a review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, exercise and avoiding weight gain is the strongest method to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Researchers found that women who gained more than 10 percent of their body weight during or after breast cancer treatments were more likely to be at risk for breast cancer-related death. Possible reasons for the increased risk include the rise of circulating insulin-like growth factor, sex hormones and proinflammatory ctyokines caused by obesity.

The review included 67 published articles studying the impact of different lifestyle choices such as diet, weight and smoking habits on breast cancer survival. While no specific diet has been proven to improve breast cancer survival, the review authors recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, including 75 minutes of vigorous exercise and around two sessions of strength training to build up muscle.

Healthy lifestyle choices can also lead to mental benefits as well. Authors Julia Hamer and Ellen Warner wrote that “making positive lifestyle changes can also be psychologically beneficial to patients by empowering them, since the feeling of loss of control is one of the biggest challenges of a cancer diagnosis.”

Hamer and Warner emphasized that these recommendations are not guaranteed to stop breast cancer recurrence, but regardless if exercise changes the prognosis, patients can benefit from improving their overall health.

Do You Really Need a Rest Day After Exercise?

Rest days are a standard part of exercise programs, but they’re not the only way to avoid overworking yourself. Let’s look at the difference between rest and recovery, and when you can bend the rules.

The Reason for Rest Days

Most strength-focused programs like weightlifting either work your whole body and then skip the next day, or else they have you split up your workouts so that, for example, your arms get a rest on leg day. The idea is to let each muscle recover from a workout before you ask it to do the same thing again.

But not every activity works this way. Runners, for example, often run every day, and may only take one or two true rest days a week. But within that pattern, they will alternate days of hard running (like speedwork, hill running, or long runs) with easy runs that feel less challenging to the body.

Other sports may fall somewhere in between, but nobody expects to work every body part to exhaustion every day. Even when elite athletes do workouts every day that look killer to us, it’s because our “hard” is their “easy”. You can bet their coaches schedule in just enough of the easier workouts to keep the athlete’s progress on track with minimal risk of injury.

Rest days and splits help us to pace ourselves. Too much hard running, if you’re not used to it, sets you up for tendonitis and other overuse injuries. And too much exercise of any kind can lead to a syndrome called overtraining where your body may develop flu-like symptoms and disturbed sleep because it just can’t keep up with the demands you’re putting on it.

There’s Nothing Magic About Resting for One Day

Taking a single rest day after a hard workout isn’t the only way to keep yourself from overtraining. There are a few reasons it’s a good rule of thumb, though:

  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness often takes two days to peak. If you did a too-hard workout on Monday, you might be feeling only a little bit sore on Tuesday and think you’re okay to work out some more. If you waited until Wednesday instead, you would have a better sense of how sore or injured you are. Then you would be able to make a better judgment call about whether, and how hard, to work out again.
  • Resting every other day means only half of your days will be hard workouts. The other half will be rest days or easier days, so the schedule keeps your total workout intensity manageable.
  • Mentally, it’s easier to stick to a workout when you enjoy it. Hard workouts aren’t always fun, and you may need to psych yourself up to try something really challenging. It’s okay if you don’t feel up to that every day. Having some easier, almost relaxing days can help you stick to your schedule.

If you can accomplish those goals with another schedule, though, feel free to do so. If you enjoy all your workouts, even the hard ones, slowly include more hard days in your schedule. If you feel okay with that, keep doing it! But if you end up sore or fatigued, listen to your body and put those rest days back in.

If soreness is your problem, be aware that skipping one day may not be the best way to deal with it. Soreness peaking at 48 hours is just an average, and the true timeframe can vary. Your muscles might only feel sore and weak for one day, or if you tried something new and difficult, you might feel it for a week. At the beginning of a new workout routine, you might even need three or four easy days.

Recovery Doesn’t Have to Mean Total Rest

Some people prefer the term “recovery” to “rest” days, because total rest isn’t necessarily your goal. After all, lifting a fork to your mouth is a similar action to a bicep curl, so if you just did a heavy arm day, would you be unable to eat? Clearly, some amount of activity is fine on a rest or recovery day.

This is where you have to calibrate your own sense of effort. If you’re new to exercising and you just did a day of heavy squats, a five mile bike ride is probably not a great choice for the following day. But if you bike five miles to work every day, you should be able to keep doing that even on your “rest” days.

When I did push-ups every day for 30 days, a few people suggested that I was setting myself up for injury by not taking rest days. But as I wrote in that article, I ramped up my fitness very carefully. A few sets of pushups every day is my new normal, and it’s no more taxing to me than a bike ride is to a bike commuter. Some days I might try a more challenging type of pushup or I might do more reps than usual; but I balance out those harder days with, you guessed it, easier days that are closer to my baseline effort level.

As you learn your own strengths and limitations, you too can alter your workout schedule according to what works for you. That might mean you only take one or two rest days per week, or it might mean you do mega-hard workouts and then lay low for a few days. If you’re getting a reasonable amount of exercise in total, and if you aren’t getting sore or injured, you’re probably doing okay.

Leaving Exercise For The Weekend Could Be As Effective As Regular Workouts

Cramming all your exercise into a couple of days could almost as effective for your health as spreading it out more evenly throughout the week, researchers have found.

An analysis of more than 60,000 people revealed that ‘weekend warriors’ who met their exercise quota over just one or two days still significantly lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and an early death – but engaging in any exercise at all could be the most important takeaway from the study.

“The weekend warrior and other physical activity patterns characterized by one or two sessions per week … may be sufficient to reduce risks for all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality,” explains one of the researchers, Gary O’Donovan from Loughborough University in the UK.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that anyone aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” per week, or at least 75 minutes of “vigorous-intensity aerobic activity” a week.

As a rule of thumb, if you can hold a conversation while exercising, it’s considered moderate; if not, it’s vigorous.

But what exactly are the effects if those minutes are spread out over the week?

To find out, O’Donovan and his team collected the fitness data of 63,591 adults (average age: 59) over an 18-year period, paying special attention to the 8,802 individuals who died during the course of the study.

Those who died were split into four categories: people who met the WHO exercise targets with regular workouts throughout the week; so-called weekend warriors who met them in one or two days; people who exercised but didn’t hit the WHO targets; and those who didn’t exercise at all.

Of the weekend warriors identified in the study, 56 percent were men and 44 percent were women. Fifty-five percent of that group divided their activity over two days, and 45 percent fitted it all into a single day – which is one way to spend a Saturday.

As you might expect, any kind of exercise was associated with a lower death rate, but a regular routine was only slightly more beneficial than a weekend blitz.

Those who spread their exercise out over the week were linked to a 35 percent lower death rate, while bursts of exercise over only one or two days still resulted in a 30 percent drop.

And engaging in any exercise at all looks to be the key to warding off ill health. Even those who didn’t meet the WHO exercise time targets were still found to have a 29 percent lower death rate overall than those who didn’t do any exercise at all.

So it’s well worth getting off the sofa, even if it’s just for one or two days a week, and not for as long as you’d like.

“The novel finding is that it appears the duration, and possibly the intensity, of leisure time physical activity is more important than the frequency,” Ulf Ekelund from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, who was not involved in the research, told The Guardian.

There are some limitations to the study to keep in mind: 90 percent of the participants were white, and the average age of respondents was 59, so it’s not necessarily representative of other ethnic groups or younger people.

Plus, the respondents were all self-reporting their exercise routines, which could reduce the accuracy of the results.

The results don’t give us evidence of causality either – in other words, they don’t prove that it was the exercise patterns that directly influenced the participants’ death and diseae rates.

Still, the fact that there appears to be a trend here should be encouraging news for those of us who don’t have our workouts planned across the whole week, or who try to exercise, but don’t quite meet the suggested WHO exercise targets.

“My take-home message is that the greatest risk reduction and the greatest gain for the individual and for public health is if those who are physically inactive [to] take up some activity,” Ekelund said.

Researchers Might Have Just Made A Drug That Mimics The Benefits Of Working Out

Researchers from Australia have developed a pill that can produce ‘exercise-like’ results on muscles and metabolic health in mice.

With further study and human trials, the team says the new drug might provide a way to combat heart disease by triggering the body to burn fat and improve cardiovascular health – but it doesn’t seem to promote weight loss.

“Heart disease is still the biggest killer of people with diabetes and obesity, with little in the way of treatment,” said team member Sean McGee from Deakin University in Melbourne.

“We have identified a drug that makes the body respond as if it has exercised, with all the fat burning and cardiovascular benefits, which opens up exciting possibilities for future treatments.”

To develop the drug, the team first looked at how exercising caused the mice’s bodies to burn more fat. In the end, they found that the mechanism inside mice’s muscles that turns on the systems responsible for fat metabolism is all controlled by a single protein.

Knowing this, the team genetically manipulated this protein, giving them the ability to turn fat metabolism off and on and found that – even without moving – the mice’s muscles appeared to have been exercised and their metabolisms sped up as well. This gave them the idea to see if they could induce this state with a drug.

As McGee says of the findings:

“We then identified a drug that acted in a similar way to what the genetic modification was doing and when we introduced it to mice not only did all the genes that are normally responsive to exercise turn on, the mice ran much longer on an exercise treadmill, burned more fat, had a decline in blood lipids (fats), some of which are associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and their blood glucose levels reduced as well.”

The weird thing about the drug, the team says, is that it caused the cardiovascular health of the mice to improve, though it didn’t have any effect on weight. Instead, possibly because of the increased metabolic rates, the mice ate more food than before.

“The mice actually tended to eat a little bit more which isn’t really surprising because we know that exercise alone is not that effective at making you lose weight, which is more associated with dietary changes,” McGee added.

“What we do know is that the mice that received the drug over extended periods were metabolically much healthier than those not taking the drug.”

This means that if the drug passes human trials and performs the same way it did in mice, it would provide some of the major benefits of working out, such as improved cardiovascular functioning and a high metabolic rate, but wouldn’t be a weight loss pill or appetite suppressant.

With that in mind, the drug will likely be aimed at people who either cannot work out due to physical issues or are at risk of heart disease. Basically, they hope that the new drug might offer a stepping stone for people with health issues to get back into workout shape.

“This could be for frail people who can’t exercise but are at risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or metabolic disease or patients with obesity who struggle to exercise, where the drug would allow them to find that initial exercise program easier to get into,” McGee said.

It’s important to explicitly point out, though, that the team’s current findings are strictly based off how the drug has worked on mice, meaning that it might not work with humans in the same way. The team hopes to move on to human trials in the near future to verify their results, but only time will tell whether it works as well for us as it does for rodents.

The team’s findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.