A bit of pick up basketball, a jog through the park, an half hour on the elliptical at the gym...physical activity throughout the week can add up. And it may be linked to mental health.
A recent study found lower rates of depression symptoms among African American men and women who frequently got exercise in their spare time.
None of the participants in the study were diagnosed with depression. Yet, they showed fewer depression symptoms if they said they "often" were engaged in physical activity for fun.
The study, led by Elisa R. Torres, PhD, of the College of Nursing at the University of Iowa, aimed to see whether physical activity had any influence on depression for African Americans.
The researchers used data from 1,811 African American women and 1,038 African American men who had participated in the National Survey of American Life in 2001 to 2003.
None of the participants had been diagnosed with clinical depression. The participants described whether they participated in sports or exercise during their leisure time often, sometimes, rarely or never.
They also answered questions that screen for symptoms of depression. Then the researchers compared their depression symptoms score to how frequently they engaged in physical activity on their own time.
The researchers found a link between physical activity and lower depression symptoms.
Both men and women who reported engaging in physical activity often during their leisure time were half as likely to have symptoms of depression as those who said they never participated in exercise or sport for fun.
The researchers had looked at the men and women separately because African American women tend to report depression symptoms less frequently than African American men.
Although the study found fewer depression symptoms among those who were more physically active, the cause of these findings is not clear.
It's not possible to know from the study whether being physically active helped ward off depression, or the other way around.
Past research has also shown lower rates of depression among individuals who are regularly active.
The study was published in the June issue of Preventive Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.