Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Unleash the Happy Hormones: The Surprising Magic of Just 2 Hours a Week to Beat the Blues

NEW RESEARCH SUGGESTS IT TAKES LESS THAN 2 HOURS of exercise per week to boost your mood and reduce depression symptoms.

I often wonder how much walking I need to do to combat the blues. It turns out that even small volume increases in physical activity can reduce your depression risk or symptoms.

new research study demonstrates that even small increases in physical activity can reduce your risk or symptoms of depression.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say, “My tooth is aching” than to say, “My heart is broken.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Let’s briefly look at how movement can help us feel better. First, though, let’s pivot to the origins of the word “blues.”

The Blues

African Americans created the blues, a secular folk music, in the early 1900s, primarily in the American South.

B.B. King at the 2009 North Sea Jazz Festival. He was “the single most important electric guitarist of the last half of the 20th century.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BB_King

Although instrumental accompaniment is nearly universal in the blues, it is essentially a vocal form.

Blues songs are usually lyrical rather than narrative because expressing feelings is foremost.

As a musical style, the blues is characterized by expressive “microtonal” pitch inflections (blue notes), a three-line textual stanza of the form AAB, and a 12-measure form.

Initial Use of “Blues”

But we need to go back to find the initial use of the term blues.

In the 1800s, the English phrase “blue devils” meant upsetting hallucinations precipitated by severe alcohol withdrawal.

“Blue devils” was later shortened to the blues, describing states of depression and upset.

Now that you have kindly indulged me in exploring the origin of the term “blues,” let’s move on to the new research findings.

The Mood-Boosting Minimum

I always feel better after walking for 30 minutes during my lunch hour. Could this be enough to provide a mood boost?

Scientists recently analyzed over 4000 individuals in the Republic of Ireland over a decade. The subjects were at least 50 years old.

The researchers wanted to know the minimal dose of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) associated with a reduced risk of depression and depressive symptoms in older adults with and without chronic disease.

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

Key Findings

Can you walk your way to a better mood? The answer is yes, and with fewer steps than you might think.

Researchers from the University of Limerick and Trinity College Dublin discovered the following:

A physical activity dose equivalent to 20 minutes a day (five days a week) of moderate-intensity physical activity, like brisk walking, was linked with less risk of depressive symptoms and odds of major depression.

About 400 MET minutes (MET = metabolic equivalent task) — about 100 minutes of low-intensity exercise (think a walk) or approximately 50 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise — provides significant mind protection.

Moreover, the more exercise you perform, the less likely you are to experience depressive symptoms. But you begin to accrue benefits with very little physical activity.

The presence of chronic disease did not affect the findings.

Dose-Response Curve

The investigators discovered a dose-response relationship between exercise volume and the risk of depression.

More moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was linked to greater depression protection.

Thirty minutes of exercise was associated with a small (seven percent relative risk reduction) improvement in the chances of developing depressive symptoms. However, the odds of major depression dropped by nearly one-half (44 percent).

Doses equivalent to 60 minutes daily of physical activity were associated with a 16 percent lower chance of depressive symptoms and 41 percent lower odds of major depression.

Finally, those getting 120 minutes of daily exercise were linked to a 23 percent lower probability of depressive symptoms and a halving (49 percent) of the odds of major depression.

Study Details

The team used ten years of Irish Longitudinal Study On Ageing data.

The scientists analyzed more than 4,000 older individuals over ten years.

Photo by Majestic Lukas on Unsplash

The database included information on depression, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and other key health-related variables such as disease, lifestyle factors, and socio-economic status.

They controlled for health-related factors, including age, biological sex, alcohol and smoking use, obesity, and antidepressant use.

My Take

There is growing evidence that physical activity promotes neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to adapt and reprogram.

Many depressed individuals have psychological inflexibility, which occurs when they get stuck in a feedback loop of negative thoughts and emotions.

Exercise, and you may re-route neural pathways. The result? More positive emotions, improved stress resilience, and less anxiety.

Photo by ERNEST TARASOV on Unsplash

Physical activity at lower doses than World Health Organization recommendations for health appears to offer protection against depressive symptoms and Major Depression.

Aim for 20 minutes daily of moderate-intensity activity at least five days per week. Do more to get even more benefits.

Do you feel better after a short bout of exercise?


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Connect with Dr. Hunter



All articles, information and publications featured by the author on thees pages remain the property of the author. Creative Commons does not apply and should you wish to syndicate, copy or reproduce, in part or in full, any of the content from this author, please contact Medika directly.