Regular exercise 'best for mental health'

Alicia Farmer
August 12, 2018

Findings are being used to develop and personalize exercise recommendations to match people with specific exercise regimes to help improve mental health.

Among people who had been diagnosed previously with depression, exercise appeared to have a larger effect, resulting in seven days of poor mental health a month compared with almost 11 days for those who did no exercise.

All types of exercise were found to have a benefit, but the biggest effect was found from popular team sports, cycling, and aerobic or gym activities.

The study determined that exercising in 45-minute sessions for three to five times per week offered the best benefits, with no visible difference even if the sessions lasted beyond 90 minutes.

While exercise is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and mortality from all causes, its association with mental health has been somewhat of a mystery.

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"Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level", said study co-author Dr. Adam Chekroud.

"Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and there is an urgent need to find ways to improve mental health through population health campaigns", said Dr. Chekroud.

They included more than 1.2 million people from the USA who were investigated based on the influence of the exercise duration, type, intensity and frequency on the mental health. The individuals reported on their physical health, mental health, and exercise behaviors. Those who exercised reported 1.5 fewer days of a struggle, which is a reduction of 43.2 percent. He said that people who do not exercise enough are not giving their brains much needed stimulation, while people who exercise too much are running themselves into the ground. Participants reported how many days they classed their mental health as not good, and how often they performed exercises outside of work.

However the research also found that more exercise was not always better for mental health and well-being, with people who exercise every day reporting lower moods.

Regular physical activity lasting 45 minutes three to five times a week can reduce poor mental health - but doing more than that is not always beneficial, a large United States study suggests.

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