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We know physical fitness can help alleviate symptoms of depression, but a new study suggests that exercise may prevent them from happening in the first place.

Researchers surveyed nearly 3,000 women between ages 42 to 52 to assess their fitness levels as well as their depression symptoms. They found that women who met the standard public health recommendations for physical activity showed fewer signs of depression, when compared to inactive women. And the more physical activity a woman logged, the less likely she was to have depression symptoms, suggesting that moderate-intensity levels of exercise may be protective against the mental illness.


While there’s no one-size-fits all prevention or treatment for depression, the findings are particularly noteworthy for individuals in midlife. According to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, middle-age women have the highest rate of depression than any other age group in the United States. This could partly be due to the fact that many people don’t seek treatment for the illness — according to the CDC report, only 35 percent of people with severe depression saw a mental health professional within the last year.

The new research adds to the seemingly endless emotional health benefits of exercise, including improved cognitive functioning, controlled addiction and lower stress and anxiety. Even just a few moments of walking in nature can have mood-boosting powers.

The results were published in the February 2015 issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.**