Physical Activity Is Protective Against The Emergence Of Depression


Raised levels of physical activity can protect against the emergence of depression, regardless of age and geographical region, an international team of researchers has found.

Researchers from Brazil, Belgium, Australia, USA, UK and Sweden pooled data from 49 unique cohort studies of people free from mental illness that examined if physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of developing depression.

In total, 266,939 individuals were included in the meta-analysis, with a gender distribution of 47% males, and on average the individuals were followed up after 7.4 years. Once the data were extracted they found that compared with people with low levels of physical activity, those with high levels had lower odds of developing depression in the future.

Evidence Is Clear

Furthermore, physical activity had a protective effect against the emergence of depression in youths, in adults, and in the elderly and across geographical regions, (in Europe, North America, and Oceania).

Lead author Professor Dr Felipe Barreto Schuch, Universidade La Salle, said;

“This is the first global meta-analysis to establish that engaging in physical activity is beneficial for protecting the general population from developing depression. The evidence is clear that people that are more active have a lesser risk of developing depression. We have looked at whether these effects happen at different age groups and across different continents and the results are clear. Regardless your age or where you live, physical activity can reduce the risk of having depression later in life.”

Co-author Dr Brendon Stubbs, Post-doctoral research physiotherapist, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London and Head of Physiotherapy, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said,

“Our robust analysis of over a quarter of a million people found consistent evidence that people who are more active are less likely to develop depression in the future.

We found that higher levels of physical activity were protective from future depression in children, adults and older adults across every continent and after taking into account other important factors such as body mass index, smoking and physical health conditions. Given the many other health benefits of physical activity, our data add to the pressing calls to prioritize physical activity across the lifespan.”

Further studies are warranted to evaluate the minimum physical activity levels required and the effects of different types of activity and “dosages” on subsequent risk for depression.


Felipe B. Schuch, Ph.D., Davy Vancampfort, Ph.D., Joseph Firth, Ph.D., Simon Rosenbaum, Ph.D., Phillip B. Ward, Ph.D., Edson S. Silva, B.Sc., Mats Hallgren, Ph.D., Antonio Ponce De Leon, Ph.D., Andrea L. Dunn, Ph.D., Andrea C. Deslandes, Ph.D., Marcelo P. Fleck, Ph.D., Andre F. Carvalho, Ph.D., Brendon Stubbs, Ph.D.
Physical Activity and Incident Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies
American Journal of Psychiatry 2018; 175(7): 631-648. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17111194

Last Updated on November 11, 2023