The strongest scientific evidence we have for physical interventions that can improve emotional wellbeing are for physical activity.  There’s an overwhelming body of scientific evidence showing that being physically active both can protect and treat depression. 

The form of physical activity that has most commonly been studied is walking, interestingly.  And one of the findings that comes from the research is that moderate regular physical activity may be more effective than intense physical activity.  So it’s not necessarily that more is better.

But the idea is that you want to move your body every day if possible in some way or other.  Doing this is one of the most powerful interventions that we identified both for preventing depression and for treating it. 

Now often when people are depressed the last thing that they want to do is move.  So I think you really want to hit them over the head to get them moving.  One of the practical pieces of advice that I often give is that if you want to develop better habits, whether it’s better habits eating or exercise, spend more time in the company of people who have the habits you want. 

And that is a very simple, very effective piece of advice.  So if you want to eat better, spend more time in the company of people who have good eating habits.  If you want to be more physically active, spend more time in the company of people who are physically active. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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