Physical activity is associated with lower levels of depression when it is perceived as leisure rather than workplace activity, according to a recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The study involved the examination of self-reported physical activity levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety of 40,401 Norwegians. Physical and social data were also collected to relate other factors to the levels of activity and the risk of depression and anxiety.
The authors propose that the context of physical activity is an important factor in relation to lower levels of depression because leisure-time physical activity involves greater social contact than work-related activity, a mediating factor for depression. Higher levels of social support and engagement proved to have more influence on depression rates than biological changes such as changes to resting pulse or metabolic markers.
The study also found that the intensity of activities did not influence the association between leisure-time activity and symptoms of depression. In the case of anxiety symptoms, however, only light leisure-time physical activities were associated with a slightly lower likelihood of having symptoms of anxiety.
See “Physical Activity and Common Mental Disorders,” British Journal of Psychiatry (2010; 197:357-364), available at bjp.rcpsych.org.