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By On August 21st, 2018

Moderate exercise helps mental health, but too much can be a bad thing

A new study has confirmed something many have suspected for decades: exercise can help improve mental health, especially among those with depression.

According to the findings published in The Lancet Psychiatry, adults who regularly exercised saw an average of 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health each month compared to those who did not exercise. Among those diagnosed with clinical depression, the change was even more significant. Exercise decreased the number of poor mental health days by 3.75 days each month.

The report is the result of a large observational study including over one million American adults who completed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System survey in 2011, 2013, and 2015.

The survey included questions asking participants to estimate how many days over the past 30 they were in “not good” mental health related to stress, depression, or emotional issues. Participants were also asked how frequently and what type of exercise they did.

Even after accounting for factors like race, age, and income, the team found that those who exercised experienced almost half as many days of poor mental health compared to those who did not exercise.

The team observed that any form of exercise of physical activity, including housework, improved overall mental health. Still, the strongest effect was from team sports, cycling, aerobic exercise, and gym exercise.

“Our finding that team sports are associated with the lowest mental health burden may indicate that social activities promote resilience and reduce depression by reducing social withdrawal and isolation, giving social sports an edge over other kinds,” said researcher Adam Chekroud, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

While the report reinforces the concept that exercise can help improve mental health, it suggests the key is moderation. Exercising for approximately 45 minutes 3 to 5 days a week was tied to the largest benefit, while more exercise saw diminished results. Exercising more than 3 hours a day was even tied to poorer mental health than those not exercising.

“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,” said Dr. Chekroud. “Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90-minute sessions, is associated with worse mental health.”

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