The benefits of exercise on mental health have long been identified, documented, and validated, however the specifics have always been up in the air. ‘Exercise’ and ‘physical activity’ are very broad terms, and can be the subject of interpretation.
How often, how long, and what type of exercise is going to be optimum for mental health? While the results will no doubt vary greatly from person to person, a new study has shed some light on the benefits, and potential drawbacks, of exercise as an effective coping mechanism.
“Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90 minute sessions is associated with worse mental health,” say Dr. Adam Chekroud, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University.
Dr. Chekroud, Yale University, and the University of Oxford conducted the study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal, surveying 1.2 million Americans in the process. The researchers suggest that over exercising is most likely harmful to mental health, as it is associated with obsessive personalities.
When analysing their findings, the researchers identified 45 minutes, three to five days per week, as the optimal amount for positive mental health gains. And while excessive exercise was not ideal, those who over-trained were still reporting fewer ‘down days’ than those who participated in no exercise at all.
“Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level,” summarised Dr. Chekroud.
“Excitingly, the specifics of the regime, like the type, duration, and frequency, played an important role in this association. 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.”
In further findings, the study found that team sports, cycling, aerobics and resistance training to be the most beneficial for mental health. This confirms recent findings from the University of Limerick earlier this year.
“Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status, total prescribed volume of RET [resistance exercise training], or significant improvements in strength,” suggested researcher Brett Gordon.
The study of 1,877 individuals took particular note and measurements on feelings of worthlessness, low mood, and interest in the activity they were participating in.
“Interestingly, larger improvements were found among adults with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression compared to adults without such scores, suggesting RET may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms.”
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