As we make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, research is showing that depression levels are up and activity levels are down. Is there a correlation?

An article from Outside Magazine indicates there may be. It shares the findings from a review of 49 studies that, taken together, followed 267,000 people and produced some pretty compelling proof that exercise not only helps prevent depression, but helps people overcome it if they’re already experiencing it.

Here are some highlights:

Can ExercCan Exercise Prevent Depression?

For their review, Schuch and Stubbs included 49 such studies that, taken together, followed 267,000 people and included different types of exercise. They found that exercise reduced the chances someone would experience depression by between 17 and 41 percent—a substantial effect that was observed across different countries, ages, and sexes. 

Put simply: exercise helps prevent depression. Just because you exercise doesn’t mean you won’t ever become depressed, but it certainly reduces the chances that you will.

Can Exercise Treat Already-Existing Depression?

Schuch and Stubbs conducted a review of 25 studies that surveyed a total of 1,487 people and found that between 40 and 50 percent of people with depression respond to exercise, with an effect that, on a scale of small, medium, or large, is considered large. This on par with talk therapy and medication. And while the dropout rate for exercise is around 18 percent, it is 19 percent for talk therapy and between 26 and 28 percent for medication.

How Does Exercise Prevent and Treat Depression?

Depression is associated with chronic inflammation, and regular exercise reduces inflammation. Depression is also associated with lower levels of a chemical called BDNF, which helps the brain grow and remodel. Regular exercise increases BDNF, so it could help a depressed brain outgrow its patterns.

Exercise is also associated with positive psychological changes. It increases confidence and self-determination and often takes place in a community, all of which are helpful for depression. 

Check out the article for more details on the impact exercise has on depression.