Azara Blog: A link between exercise and mental health

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Date published: 2007/12/06

The BBC says:

Being a slob puts you at risk of mental health problems, experts have warned. A lack of physical activity leads to depression and dementia, evidence presented at the British Nutrition Foundation conference shows.

It comes as new research from the University of Bristol found that being active cuts the risk of Alzheimer's disease by around a third.

Currently only 35% of men and 24% of women reach the recommended weekly amount of physical activity.

Professor Nanette Mutrie, an expert in exercise and sport psychology at the University of Strathclyde, told the conference that mental health was not a trivial issue.

"It's only recently that people have begun to see the link between physical activity and mental health.

"It's important for increasing people's self esteem, general mood, coping with stress and even sleeping better.

"And we now have very strong evidence that physical activity can prevent depression."

She said inactive people had twice the risk of becoming depressed and there was also very good evidence that exercise is a useful treatment for depression.

A classic case of confusion between correlation and causation. Mutrie even happily intersperses words like "link" (correlation) and "prevent" (causation). Here, you could imagine that the idea that depression causes people to exercise less (depressed people don't want to do much in life) is if anything more likely than the claim that exercising less causes people to be depressed, although almost certainly it's much more complex than either statement would imply. (And no doubt there is a temporal issue here, but the article doesn't say how time enters into consideration, e.g. whether exercise is alleged to have an effect decades ahead of time.) It's amazing how many scientists, especially those working in health-related areas, haven't a clue about the difference between correlation and causation.

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