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.
A new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry analysed data on over 1.2 million adults in the USA and looked at the numbers of days a month where people self-reported bad mental health and how that related to the amount of exercise they did.
The study found that people who exercised regularly had 1.4 fewer poor mental health days a month than those who didn’t, averaging two bad days a month compared to 3.4. The effect was more pronounced in people who had previously been diagnosed with depression. In that group, people who exercised had seven days of poor mental health a month compared to 11 days for those who didn’t 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 ideal amount of exercise was found to be from three to five 45-minute sessions a week, but more exercise was not always found to be better for your mental health. Exercising on more than 23 days a month and in sessions lasting 90 minutes or more were actually associated with worse mental health. Never underestimate the value of a rest day.
“I would summarise the results as indicating that activity is good for mental health – but that one can do too much,” said Professor Stephen Lawrie, head of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. “Every second day for 45-60 mins might be optimal.
“Certainly, the results suggest that exercising every day is associated with worse mental health. I suspect we all know people who seem ‘addicted’ to exercise and if this starts to impact on other aspects of life – like foregoing social activities because one has to be up at the crack of dawn to run several miles – it might actually be bad for people.”