HEALTH

Yoga beats running in avoiding depression

Chinese University study finds Hongkongers who do mind-body exercises are at much lower risk of developing a mood disorder

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 4:34am

Hongkongers who do no exercise are 3.7 times more likely to develop a mood disorder than those who exercise regularly, a study has found.

And yoga and tai chi are more effective than cardio exercises such as running in reducing that risk, according to the study by Chinese University.

"When you exercise, a kind of protein [known as a neurotrophic factor] is generated in your brain that can lower the risk of mood disorder," said Professor Linda Lam Chiu-wa, chairwoman of the university's psychiatry department.

The university surveyed 2,744 people between May and July, using the widely recognised Kessler Scale-6 to determine whether they suffered from a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety.

The scale consists of a number of questions about how often interviewees feel nervous or depressed.

The survey found that 73.6 per cent of respondents showed a low risk of developing mood disorder and 20.7 per cent showed a medium risk. Another 5.6 per cent showed a high risk and were recommended to see a doctor as soon as possible.

The figures are similar to results from previous surveys carried out in the United States and Hong Kong, suggesting that the situation in the city has not got worse.

The study found that those who do no exercise at all were 3.7 times more likely to develop a mood disorder compared to those who exercised for 30 minutes twice a week.

Those who exercise but do not do so regularly were 1.8 times more likely to develop a disorder than those who regularly exercise.

"When you exercise, especially when you do it with your friends, the social interaction boosts your self-esteem. It can lower cortisol [a stress-related hormone]," Lam said.

When it comes to which kind of exercise to choose, the study found cardio exercises were not as effective as mind-body exercises in reducing the risk of developing mood disorders.

Those who did cardio exercises regularly were three times less likely to develop a disorder, but those who did mind-body exercises were 3.4 times less likely to develop one.

"When you do mind-body exercises, you need to match your breathing to the way you move, and you need to stay focused. That really helps you in lowering your stress," Lam said.

Alex Lai, 54, was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder 10 years ago.

"I was always anxious about everything. I suffered from insomnia and felt there was something pushing against me on my chest.

"I took anti-depressants at that time but the effect did not last long," Lai said.

Lai took the advice of his doctor and started jogging twice a week, 20 minutes each time.

"I feel such a sense of relief every time I go jogging because there is nothing troubling me when I am exercising," he said.