While that 5 a.m. alarm for your morning run or rushing to an after-work pilates class may seem dreadful at times, research shows it could be one of the best things you do for your mental health. Researchers from Oxford and Yale recently analyzed the mental wellbeing, income, and methods of physical activity of more than 1.2 million American men and women. They found that those who engaged in regular physical activity were happier than nonactive participants—even those who make $25,000 more per year.
Regular exercisers showed to be in poor mental health 35 days out of the year, on average, while non-active participants experienced poor mental health 53 days each year—about once a week! Those who engaged in team sports were most likely to reap the benefits, with cycling enthusiasts and those who participated in other aerobic activities close behind.
However, the study’s authors found engaging in too much exercise—three hours or more per day—had a negative impact on participants’ mental state. In fact, these over-exercisers were actually worse off than their sedentary counterparts in regards to mental health. Based on this study, the sweet spot for activity showed to be engaging in 45 minutes of exercise three to five times per week.
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This cross-sectional study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, analyzed data from the 2011, 2013, and 2015 editions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System survey. Researchers compared the number of days of bad, self-reported mental health between regular exercisers and sedentary participants. The authors of this study noted they used a specific matching procedure to balance the groups in terms of different variables such as race, gender, age, salary, BMI, among others.
The self-reported mental health data came from the question, “How many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days—for example, due to stress, depression, or emotional problems?” For the exercising group, researchers analyzed the effects of exercise type, duration, frequency and intensity on one’s state of mind.
The bottom line: There are a million reasons to incorporate regular exercise into your schedule—it reduces your risk of death, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It also promotes better sleep quality and helps you lose weight. Improved mental health is just one more reason to get moving!