Though we're often told there's a link between regular exercise and better mental health, we should be careful not to exaggerate it. If you're dealing with a serious condition like a depressive episode, a few laps around the local park aren't going to cure you.
But at the same time, there is growing evidence to suggest that a programme of regular physical exercise can be beneficial to a person's mental wellbeing.
A new study conducted by Yale University and the University of Oxford, published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, has examined what kinds of exercise – and how much of it – are likely to help your mental health.
The study, which analysed data from 1.2 million American adults collected between 2011 and 2015, found that people who exercise experience 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health each month than people who don't.
The study found people who exercise experience 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health each month than people who don't.
Interestingly, the forms of exercise most likely to improve a person's mental health were found to be team sports, cycling, aerobics and going to the gym. This suggests exercise can be helpful whether a person does it alone or as part of a group activity.
However, the study found that exercising more frequently and for longer doesn't necessarily lead to a greater mental health benefit. Taking around 45 minutes of exercise between three and five times a week was found to be ideal.
The new study follows research published in May that found weight training in particular can have a positive impact on mental health.
"I’ve been a habitual exercise avoider for many years - mainly due to gym fear and let’s be honest, laziness," Becky from south London tells Refinery29 UK. "Recently I’ve been suffering with anxiety and everything I read on it said exercise helps, so I bit the bullet and got a trainer.
"I sat down with her and went through my goals, what I do and don't like doing, and she came up with a personalised plan which works for me – it’s mainly weight training because I hate cardio. We do varied exercises to keep it interesting."
Becky now works out twice a week with her trainer, and once or twice alone on top of this, and says: "I have seen a marked improvement in my mental health and feel stronger and more body confident too."
If you are suffering from a mental health illness, it is important that you seek medical help. For some, exercise alone may bring about a huge improvement. For others, it may help in conjunction with therapy and/or medication. Every person is different, and you need to find what works for you.
If you are struggling at the moment and want someone to talk to, contact your GP or mental health charity Mind for more information on what to do next.
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