Even a little exercise is better than none. That’s the key conclusion of new research showing bariatric surgery patients who get as little as one hour of moderate-intensity physical activity per week — or eight minutes a day — have markedly lower rates of depression and anxiety.
The study, led by researchers with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, found that patients who exercised after weight-loss surgery had a 92 percent lower risk of seeing a mental-healthcare professional than their more sedentary counterparts.
"Typically, clinical professionals manage their patients' depression and anxiety with counseling and/or antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication," said Wendy C. King, an epidemiologist at Pitt Public Health who helped conduct the study, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. "Recent research has focused on physical activity as an alternative or adjunct treatment."
Adults with severe obesity are twice as likely to have major depression or anxiety, compared to the general population. King noted the conditions have been shown to have a negative impact on long-term surgically induced weight loss.
To determine whether exercise can help, King and her colleagues tracked 850 bariatric surgery patients’ physical activity levels before and after having the procedure between 2006 and 2009 at 10 U.S. hospitals. Study participants were also surveyed to assess their mental health, depressive symptoms, and treatment for psychiatric and emotional problems, including depression and anxiety.
The results showed that patients who engaged in even small amounts of physical activity were less likely to report depression and anxiety.
"We were surprised that the thresholds were really low," King said, noting just one hour of moderate-intensity physical activity a week reduced the odds of depression or anxiety treatment by 92 percent.
Similarly, just 4,750 steps a day — less than half the 10,000 steps recommended for a healthy adult — reduced odds of depression or anxiety treatment by 81 percent.
"It could be that, in this population, important mental health benefits can be gained by simply not being sedentary," said King.
This study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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