A third of people at risk of depression and anxiety could prevent it by getting enough exercise, a study suggests.

Exercise is a well-known treatment for those with depression, with doctors even prescribing it.

But moving more could prevent people becoming depressed and anxious in the first place, a study of more than 37,000 people suggests.

If everyone managed 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise – which makes you breathe hard and includes running and swimming – it could prevent almost 19 per cent of cases of depression and anxiety, researchers concluded.

Research suggests regular exercise could reduce diagnoses of depression and anxiety

And if we all did between two-and-a-half hours and five hours a week of moderate activity – which makes you breathe faster and includes brisk walking, cycling and dancing – another 13 per cent of depression and anxiety diagnoses might never happen.

These findings suggest almost a third of cases of depression and anxiety, which affect one in five adults in the UK, might be preventable through exercise. 

Dr Carlos Celis-Morales, senior author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘This is a very strong public health message, as exercise is free, and everyone can increase how much they do in a week.’

The study, in the journal BMC Medicine, looked at people aged 37 to 73 who had not anxiety. They were given fitness trackers to monitor physical activity.

When they were followed up, for almost seven years on average, around 3 per cent had developed depression or anxiety. 

Based on the results, researchers calculated that sedentary people who switched to 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous activity would be 29 per cent less likely to develop depression or anxiety.

Doing 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate physical activity would reduce the risk of becoming anxious or depressed by 47 per cent. 

More research is needed, as the study authors do not yet understand if it is the exercise itself making the difference. 

Although physical activity does flood the brain with reward chemicals, the benefits may be more about exercising with other people and the boost we get from socialising.

A third of people at risk of mental health issue could avoid it with regular workouts, study shows 

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