Running at Christmas can help fight depression

Running at Christmas could be an antidote to the Christmas blues. With Christmas celebrations all around people often choose to forget how depression at this time of year can be a real problem.

It is a cold and dark time of year when the holidays can lead to awkward family disputes or crushing loneliness. But going out for a run just might help. Exercise in general, and running in particular, is a good way to fight stress. Even if you have never experienced a “running high” going out for a run is an escape from the stresses of the unlimited jollity of the festive season.

This is not merely wishful thinking, or using running at Christmas to avoid unwanted family commitments. Research published recently in Preventive Medicine showed how far taking exercise can limit depression. The researchers collected the results of some large studies covering well over a million adult men and women, focussing on links between fitness and mental health. This study didn’t only focus on people who went running during the Christmas holiday, but the results were striking and very relevant to any runner who is silently dreading the unhappiness that may strike at the Christmas season.

The study divided the group into three segments based on their aerobic fitness. The segment with the lowest fitness was about 75 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with depression than those with the best fitness; the people in the middle group were nearly 25 percent more likely to be depressed than the fittest participants. Obviously, then, the fittest third were far less likely to suffer from depression. The summary concludes in a dry academic style that “considered alongside the wider benefits of higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, these findings further support the rationale for interventions specifically targeting fitness, in order to reduce the significant burden associated with depression”. In other words: “as well as being a good thing anyway getting fit will probably help fight depression”.

Running at Christmas fits with another report on this site about running and meditation. Depression is a serious medical condition that needs specialist treatment in many cases. But to combat the effects of over-eating or just to clear the mind of depressing side-effects of the Christmas season you can make a good start by going out running at Christmas or before the new year.

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