Walk Your Way to Better Mental Health

While the benefits of regular exercise on depression are widely acknowledged, recent research has put a number to just how much physical activity can make a difference.

By Alexander Mok

Benefits of walking on depression

Depression is the leading cause of mental health-related disease burden globally, affecting approximately 280 million people and accounting for over 47 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) in 2019. Physical activity may prevent and reduce depression, but hitherto, the dose-response relationship between physical activity levels and depression remains uncertain.

In a recently published paper, the meta-analysis reviewed and pooled large population-based studies (including more than 190,000 adults over 2 million person-years of follow-up) and found an inverse curvilinear association between physical activity and incident depression, with greater marginal benefits at lower levels of physical activity, and diminishing marginal benefits at higher activity levels.

Adults meeting the minimum recommended physical activity levels of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly (equivalent to approximately 20 minutes of brisk walking daily) had 25 percent lower risk of depression. More encouragingly, even adults meeting half the recommended physical activity levels (equivalent to about 10 minutes of brisk walking daily) still had an 18 percent lower risk of depression.

This suggests that there are appreciable mental health benefits from being physically active, even at levels below the current public health guidelines. These findings could motivate individuals to start small and slow, gradually accumulating any increase in physical activity into their daily lives to improve mental health and well-being. 


Dr Alexander Mok's research and professional interests span the fields of integrative human physiology, epidemiology, public health policy, and health economics. Appreciating that population health is influenced by a range of social-ecological factors which lie beyond the remit of the healthcare sector, he endeavours to contribute in research and policymaking to tackle the social determinants of health inequalities.