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J Affect Disord. 2006 Jul;93(1-3):79-85. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Physical activity, exercise coping, and depression in a 10-year cohort study of depressed patients.

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Center for Health Care Evaluation, Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System and Stanford University, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA.



Epidemiological research examining the relationship between physical activity and depression has been conducted almost exclusively with community samples. We examined associations between physical activity, exercise coping, and depression in a sample of initially depressed patients, using four waves of data spanning 10 years.


A cohort (n=424) of depressed adults completed measures of physical activity, exercise coping, depression, and other demographic and psychosocial constructs at baseline, 1-year, 4-years, and 10-years, with a 90% wave-to-wave retention rate. Multilevel modeling was used to analyze individual depression trajectories.


More physical activity was associated with less concurrent depression, even after controlling for gender, age, medical problems, and negative life events. Physical activity counteracted the effects of medical conditions and negative life events on depression. However, physical activity was not associated with subsequent depression. The findings for exercise coping were comparable.


Measures of physical activity and exercise coping encompassed a limited set of activities and did not include information about duration or intensity.


Our results suggest that more physical activity is associated with reduced concurrent depression. In addition, it appears that physical activity may be especially helpful in the context of medical problems and major life stressors. Clinically, encouraging depressed patients to engage in physical activity is likely to have potential benefits with few obvious risks.

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