Cardio Protects You From Depression, Says Million-Person Study

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Photo: Dennis Hallinan/Getty Images

If you need more motivation for continuing to lace up your running shoes as the weather gets colder, consider this: According to a new meta-analysis of a million people, having low cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a 75 percent higher risk of depression, while people with medium fitness levels have a 23 percent higher risk.

Published in Preventive Medicine next month, the research team, lead by Felipe B. Schuch of Centro Universitário La Salle combined two American studies and one Swedish one, with a total of 1,128,290 participants, almost 98 percent of whom were male. The fitness levels were assessed by how well people did while running on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike, or making it up the equivalent of several flights of stairs.

“The idea here was to evaluate whether an objective measure of physical fitness would be associated with depression in the future,” Schuch told PsyPost. “Clearly, fitness can be improved by physical activity practice, therefore increasing physical activity should be targeted as a strategy to prevent depression.”

The results further cement the ties between physical and mental health. Another study from earlier this year found that when young people take up a meditation-and-running program, symptoms of major depressive disorder lessened by 40 percent on average, and a 2006 study found that when college students went from not exercising at all to visiting the gym a couple times a week, they had a greater “capacity for self regulation” — meaning that they could depend more on themselves than on substances. As Science of Us contributor Brad Stulberg noted, those students reported less stress, smoking, and drinking and better eating, spending, and study habits.

So if you want to be more resilient to the slings and arrows of life, keep up those miles. Just be sure to be astonishingly chill while you’re doing so, too.