How much exercise do you need for your mental health

By Last Updated: October 24th, 20232.7 min readViews: 2801

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About the Author: Daryl Stubbs
Daryl Stubbs
Daryl Stubbs is a multi-disciplinary health professional, combining his roles as an award-winning athletic therapist, registered massage therapist, and certified holistic nutritionist to offer a comprehensive approach to wellness. Graduating in 2013, Daryl has been recognized as the best massage therapy clinic in Victoria for 2022 and 2023 and has received national athletic therapy awards. He is known for his holistic approach to health, focusing on treating the body as a whole. Clients appreciate his focus on the science of probiotics, supplements, gut health, and the human body, ensuring a well-informed and evidence-based approach to their wellness journey.

Exercise, we know it’s good for us physically… but for our mental health too?

The large dose of endorphins from exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression… and even stop them from happening!

So what type of exercise? Do you have to walk your dog or run a marathon?

How much do you need to get that boost for your mental health?

Most of the studies trying to figure this out have been small and used generalizations to give guidelines. The largest study yet may give us a surprising answer…

The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry and used 1.2 million people to analyze the effects of different types of exercise on overall mental health.

It was three years of data collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance, they asked about their mental health history, current well-being, and their exercise habits.

The general consensus was that physical activity performed in groups (team sports/fitness class) provides you greater benefits than walking, running, or lifting weights. Cycling and other aerobic activities scored high still.

The study classified “exercise” as a broad term, people could choose from 75 different types. It included classics like basketball and yoga but was broad enough to cover different actives like “ active gaming devices”, “ Hunting large game”, and “ snow shovelling by hand”.

The take away? People who exercised had 40% better mental health than those who didn’t.

The other take away? It doesn’t really matter which activity people did, exercising alone was enough.

The biggest mood boosters

  • Team sports
  • Cycling
  • Aerobics and running

House chores were even on the list, they were near the bottom with about a 10% reduction in the “mental health burden” list. Which they measured by the number of bad mental health days a given person had experienced in the past month.

Too much of a good thing? Less is more?

Just exercise and exercise more… that’ll help?!

Not quite.

It turns out that more isn’t better.

It seems that there is a sweet spot when it comes to the amount of exercise

It’s around 30-60 minutes 3-5x a week

After that, the benefits start to wobble and turn.

If you do more exercise, don’t worry.

It doesn’t actually say that more than 5x a week is detrimental to your mental health, just that 3-5x a week is the sweet spot rather than 6-7.

It’s getting clear that exercising 7 days a week is being linked to poor mental health though. This may be because people use exercise as a coping strategy with mental health challenges. They may have more of the “bad days” than average but are better off than they would be if they didn’t exercise.

If you’re struggling to start a daily exercise program, try “movement snacks”. Movement snacks are just movements throughout the day instead of extended workouts. It’s 5-10 minutes of doing something – maybe you do 10 push-ups, walk to the top of your building at work, or do 25 squats. You don’t need to buy a gym membership, you can go for a walk or clean the house… your brain will help you!

Just try moving!


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