Regular exercise can help improve mental health - but don't go overboard

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 U.S. study suggests.

People who exercised for periods of 90 minutes at a time suffered up to one day extra of poor mental health each month compared to those who stuck to 45 minute sessions.

'Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level.

Researchers said that their study can not confirm cause and effect.

Exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and mortality from all causes, but its association with mental health remains unclear.

He warned however: "Previously people have believed that the more exercise you do the better your mental health". But those who were physically active had 1.5 fewer "down" days a month than those who were not active.

How often and for how long people were active was also important.

Exercising for 30-60 minutes was associated with the biggest reduction in poor mental health days - associated with around 2.1 fewer days of poor mental health.

A study in the United States has found that people who exercise several times a week report having better mental health than those who take no exercise, with team sports and those involving social groups having the most positive effect.

"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 Adam Chekroud, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, and coauthor of the study.

Here's an excuse for skipping that gym session: too much exercise may be bad for your mental health. Even doing chores around the house or pottering in the garden cut the time spent depressed by 10 per cent, they found.

On average, participants experienced 3.4 days of poor mental health each month.

But the study has some limitations.

"However, the nature of the study means it's hard to say more than that with any real certainty", he said.

"That means that we can not be sure from these results alone whether exercise is good for mental health, but the size of the study, the careful analytical approach taken by the authors and the other evidence already available makes this very likely".

Exercise had the greatest impact on people with diagnosed depression, the findings suggested. The team hope the study could help medical professionals personalise exercise recommendations, and match people with exercises that could help improve their mental health, rather than giving them a blanket recommendation to simply increase their activities.

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