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Too Much TV, Too Little Exercise Tied to Depression

By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator

While dropping temperatures and snow mean skiing and other winter sports for some, for many, the winter causes us to abandon our outdoor posts and search for shelter inside, and gather in front of the television.

While this is a nice break from our busy lives, too much sitting around can have a negative effect on our mental health. A sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise has been shown to increase the likelihood of depression.

A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who reported exercising the most in recent years were about 20 percent less likely to develop depression than those who rarely exercised.

Additionally, the study also found that women who spent more hours watching TV each week had a higher rate of depression.

Other studies, including one finding that an increased amount of time watching television as a teen can lead to an increased risk of being diagnosed with depression as an adult, have documented similar results.

Women who watched three hours or more of television a day were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression.

The study included nearly 50,000 women who filled out surveys every couple of years between 1992 and 2006. Women who exercised the most—more than 90 minutes per day—were 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who exercised 10 minutes or less a day.

Researchers hypothesized that this link might be because the women had replaced exercise with watching television. Alternatively, the researchers also suggested that women who exercised less might have been experiencing some of symptoms of depression, thus leading them to not be as active.

Exercise, as it seen here can serve as a preemptive measure to help prevent the onset of depression for some individuals. Exercise, however, has also been found effective as part of a treatment regimen once depression has already been diagnosed.

Although the study focused only on women—depression is diagnosed two times more in women than men—men should take heed as well; the benefits of exercise are not limited to only women.

Simple things can be done in the winter (and throughout the year) that can help make sure to keep your body and mind healthy. Here are some tips for getting off the couch and staying active:

  • Brave the cold! Put on a coat and get outside as much as possible. In the very least, go outside on the days where the temperature gets at little warmer. Go sledding, go ice skating or simply walk around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights.
  • Try a new class at your local recreation or community center. Take a chance and enroll in that yoga or Zumba class you’ve always wanted to but have been putting off.
  • Develop a workout routine. Set a goal for each day. A workout routine doesn’t have to involve a gym. You can mimic many of the exercises without all of the equipment. Activities such as push-ups, crunches, lunges, burpees and jogging are all great ways to stay active.
  • Go to a museum. Instead of sitting in front of TV for a few hours, take a trip to a local museum. It’s not intense exercise but will get you walking around while you look at all of the exhibits. And make sure to take the stairs!
  • Find a buddy. Often the hardest part of staying in an exercise routine is motivating yourself to exercise every day. With a partner you can push and hold one another accountable.

While you should try to exercise for at least 15 minutes in each session (enough time for your heart rate to stay elevated), if you don’t have the time to get all of your exercise at one time, don’t worry. Break it up. Take your dog for a walk in the morning; take a walk during lunch at work; go swimming at an indoor pool in the evening. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes every day. It doesn’t matter how you get activity, as long as you get activity.

Check out NAMI’s Hearts & Minds for even more tips about how to stay healthy and active year-round.


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