A landmark study led by the Black Dog Institute has revealed that regular exercise of any intensity can prevent future depression.
The finding which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, show that even small amounts of exercise can protect against depression, with mental health benefits seen regardless of age or gender.
In the largest and most extensive study of its kind, the analysis involved 33,908 Norwegian adults who had their levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety monitored over 11 years.
The international research team found that 12 percent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just one hour of physical activity each week.
"We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, 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," said lead author, Associate Professor, Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute.
"These findings are exciting because they show that even relatively small amounts of exercise from one hour per week can deliver significant protection against depression.
"We are still trying to determine exactly why exercise can have this protective effect, but we believe it is from the combined impact of the various physical and social benefits of physical activity.
"These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns. If we can find ways to increase the population's level of physical activity even by a small amount, then this is likely to bring substantial physical and mental health benefits."
Researchers used data from the Health Study of Nord-Trøndelag County, one of the largest and most comprehensive population-based health surveys ever undertaken which was conducted between January 1984 and June 1997.
Results showed that people who reported doing no exercise at all at baseline had a 44 percent increased chance of developing depression compared to those who were exercising one to two hours a week.
However, these benefits did not carry through to protecting against anxiety, with no association identified between level and intensity of exercise and the chances of developing the disorder.