Does exercise actually improve your mental health?

Regular exercise'best for mental health

Dr Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and honorary research associate, from the school of psychology at Cardiff University, said the link between exercise and mental health had been hard to pin down but this large study "strongly suggests that there is a definite association between the two".

Though all forms of exercise contributed to better mental health compared to not exercising, the strongest association was found in people who participated in popular team sports, followed by cycling and other aerobic and gym activities. Compared to people who reported doing no exercise, people who exercised reported 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health a month - a reduction of 43 percent.

"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", Chekroud said.

"The most heartwarming result was that even walking was associated with reduction in mental health burden", Adam Chekroud, author of the study and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, said in an interview. "Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level". "We are now using this to try and personalise exercise recommendations, and match people with a specific exercise regime that helps improve their mental health".

Depression was the only mental health taken into account during the study. 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.

The physical benefits of exercise are indisputable, with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and strokes all linked to regular workouts, and there is growing body of research that suggests the effect it can have on your mental health is considerable as well.

"Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90 minute sessions is associated with worse mental health", he added.

For the findings, the researchers used participants' mental and physical health, as well as their demographic information, and health-related behaviors.

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 USA study suggests.

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