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It's fairly well known today that regularly doing sport reduces the risk of developing many diseases – heart problems, obesity, diabetes and more. But what about the effects of exercise on your mental health? While physical activity isn't a miraculous solution, when done along with proper medical and psychological care, it can have an effect on many symptoms of depression. Any sport can help.
Current research has focused on what type of sports activities have the best effect on mood. Many studies promote the idea that regular and moderate physical activity can alleviate physical and mental tension. Physical exercise, along with traditional therapies, can enhance the therapeutic benefit for those with depression.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the world. More than 350 million people are affected by this illness. In France, between two and three million people suffer from a depressive episode every year.
What role can sport play in treating this illness?
Based on a 2009 study conducted by Karen White's team at the University of Southampton, doing physical activity reduces symptoms of depression such as vitality, energy and self-esteem.
More specifically, Fabien D. Legrand, a psychology lecturer at the University of Reims and member of the Cognition, Health & Socialisation laboratory notes that a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology discussed the impact of a sports activity on self-esteem. Through sport, people with depression improve their body awareness and better understand their physical abilities, which in turns helps improve their self-esteem.
For physical activity to be truly effective against the symptoms of depression, it is important to be active on a regular basis and at least at a moderate intensity.
Fabien D. Legrand explains, "we recommend physical activity programmes that include cardio (cycling, jogging, fast walking, swimming, cross-country skiing, skating, etc.) for at least 7-8 weeks, with three 30-minute workouts per week. In terms of effort, we recommend a moderate level of intensity - 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate."
As for which sports are best for fighting depression, Dr Legrand adds,
"Most researchers who study the anti-depressive effects of physical exercise used cardio exercise programmes. This trend is still current - nearly all of my colleagues, and I myself - suggest running or fast walking because it's easier to track your heart rate. However, a few studies that were done with non-cardio activities, such as strength training or meditation, have produced similar positive results compared to what we see with endurance activities."
All types of physical exercise appears to be beneficial, but no particular sport is a complete therapy for depression. A sports activity can certainly help lower the risk of developing depression (primary prevention) and improve the mental health of those with mild or moderate depression. But it is not a substitute for traditional treatments combining medication and psychotherapy with a specialist.
It is, however, an important component of traditional care, because physical activity often lets patients lower the amount of medication they take and relieves the negative thoughts linked to depression. Walking in a forest, swimming a few laps at the pool or playing table tennis are all activities
Lift the clouds with some physical exercise.
Do you think that sport plays a role before, during and after depression? Let us know how physical exercise has helped or is still helping you fight this illness.
 K. White et al., Mental Health and Physical Activity 2, 44-56, Elsevier (2009).
 F. Legrand, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology 36, 357-365, Human Kinetics (2014).
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