Further proof that exercise improves mental health

Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of physical diseases, such as heart problems and diabetes. But research has yet to prove with certainty that physical activity can improve mental health. Now a new, large-sample study published in Lancet Psychiatry provides further evidence of exercise’s psychological benefits.

The study’s authors examined data on 1.2 million U.S. adults taken from a Centers for Disease Control behavior and disease survey. They looked specifically at the correlation between exercise and the self-reported number of bad mental health days. Adjusted for various socioeconomic factors, their analysis found that people who exercised had 43 percent fewer difficult days than those who did not exercise.


Woman walking down a road.

Exercise considered in this study included all kinds of physical activity such as household chores and gardening, as well as sports and other structured exercise. Team sports, cycling and aerobics showed the biggest boost to mental health. But even less vigorous activities, like walking, were associated with fewer bad days. Interestingly, the researchers found that individuals who exercised more than 90 minutes at a time actually suffered more mental health bad days.

Getting the motivation to exercise can be a challenge for some people. Here are some tips for starting and maintaining a regular routine:

  • Consider the mental health benefits of physical activity. Research indicates that exercise can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Find other people to exercise with. Whether it’s rugby or walking, it’s more fun to do it with friends.
  • Start small and don’t overdo it. Be mindful of your body’s limits.
  • Mix up your exercising. Vary your activity to keep from burning out.
  • Give yourself a reward afterwards–like a healthy smoothie.
  • Avoid comparisons to other people’s exercise and fitness. Avoid negative self-judgement if you miss a session or two.

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