Exercise improves mood – but ‘more isn’t always better’, says study

A major US study points to a clear association between regular exercise and a reduction in poor mental health – but suggests that ‘more exercise is not always better’.

The study, which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal, is the largest of its kind to date. The authors analysed data from over 1.2 million people in surveys carried out by the Centers for Disease Control.

Of individuals with similar physical and sociodemographic profiles, those who exercised had 1.49 (43.2 per cent) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than those who did not.

All types of exercise were associated with a reduction in mental health issues, but the largest associations were seen for “popular team sports”, cycling, and aerobic and gym activities. Workouts of 45 minutes and frequencies of three to five times a week also appear to be beneficial, the study suggests.

The beneficial effects of exercise appeared to be most pronounced in individuals who had previously been diagnosed with depression. People in this group who exercised experienced seven days of poor mental health a month, compared to almost 11 days for those who did no exercise.

More is not necessarily better

Interpreting the study findings, the authors say: “Specific types, durations and frequencies of exercise might be more effective clinical targets than others for reducing mental health burden, and merit interventional study.”

Dr Adam Chekroud, study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, commented: “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.”

The improvement in mental health symptoms among those who took part in team sports suggests that more social activities could help individuals who feel isolated, Dr Chekroud added.

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