We know that exercise is good for our mental health.
That flood of endorphins you get from physical activity has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression and may even stop them from happening before it starts. There's a slight difference between walking your dog and training for a marathon though.
How much exercise does the brain need to get a benefit though?
Most of the studies have been small and hard to make a conclusion from. There's one study that found some surprising benefits though...
A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers from Yale and Oxford used a data sample with a size that was an astonishing : 1.2 million Americans, all ages 18 or older.
It was three years' worth of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance, which asked people questions about their mental health history, their current well-being, and their exercise habits.
The best thing about it? People were able to choose 75 different types of exercise - it ranged from pastimes like basketball, soccer, and yoga to the more obscure activities like hunting large game, and even snow shovelling by hand (probably faster with a shovel though ;p)
The wide range of activities combined with the vast amount of people were able to give the researchers an impressive set of results. The author laid it out on his Twitter feed that people who exercised had a 40% better mental health than people who didn't exercise!
It didn't really matter which activity people did, either — just exercising alone was enough.
There were some activities that had a larger impact than others, such as team sports.
Team sports were the biggest mood boosters, right be hind them were cycling, aerobics, and running. Even household chores were on the list, though they were near the bottom...BUT still had a 10% reduction in the "mental health burden" - which is the number of bad mental health days a given person had experienced in the past month. You can probably make the chores more enjoyable with putting on your favourite music and moving faster where you get a sweat on. I mean, i use to take off my shirt, put a cowboy hat on, and put on country music while I cleaned my room - don't ask... it was my teen years.
People who exercised had 40 percent better mental health than people who didn't exercise! Get your groove on!
The list below shows how people reported feeling after a month of different activities, compared to people who weren't physically active. The percentage indicates fewer poor mental health days; for example, playing in team sports you were reported 22.3 percent fewer bad days than those compared to no exercised
- Team sports: 22.3 percent
- Cycling: 21.6 percent
- Aerobic or gym exercise: 20.1 percent (does not include indoor bikes or treadmills)
- Running or jogging: 19 percent
- Recreational sports: 18.9 percent
- Winter or water sports: 18 percent
- Walking: 17.7 percent
- Household chores: 11.8 percent
More Isn't better
The dose is important.
There were inverse relationships to no exercise to always exercising. As exercise increases, the mental health burden decreases... up to a point and then it starts to have negative effects.
The sweet spot before it becomes problematic is 30-60 minutes 3-5x a week (120-360 minutes per week in total). More than that, it may not be overly beneficial... sort of. It doesn't say that if you exercise more than 5x a week that it's detrimental - just that 3-5x may be better. We don't suggest exercising "hard" for more than 5+ a week, mix it up with some lower stress exercise like walking, gentle hiking, or playing with the dog/kids 30+ minutes.
The sweet spot to improve your mental health with exercise is between 30-60 minutes 3-5x a week. Learn what type is best!