FEEL GOOD People who regularly exercise report 43 percent fewer days of poor mental health.
We’ve all heard it said that exercise is good for our health, and that there is also a link between what we do and how we feel in ourselves, mentally. In our heads we may understand this, but unless we truly believe it as a fact, we’re unlikely to take the steps necessary to make exercise an integral part of our lives. We need to truly know that we can reap the mental health benefits.
Thankfully, one way of assuring ourselves of the veracity of the ‘exercise is good for mental health’ slogan is to read what the latest science on the subject. Broad-scope studies and surveys are a good reference point, as they usually involve large groups of respondents and so gather some telling information.
One such study, published in Lancet Psychiatry last year, examined 1.2 million adults in the US, all of whom were dealing with mental health issues across a wide spectrum. It is the largest cross-sectional study ever completed to identify the link between exercise and mental health.
Nuts and bolts
The study found that across all age groups, respondents who exercised reported 43 percent fewer days of poor mental health in a month than those who didn’t partake in regular exercise. Researchers identified 75 different types of exercise, including popular team sports, walking, running, cycling, gym work, recreational, household and winter sports. All of the exercise types were associated with fewer mental health issues.
Interestingly, the length of the exercise session also makes a difference. Researchers found that fewer mental health issues were found amongst those respondents who exercised between 30 and 60 minutes each time, with 45 minutes per session producing the best effects. Exercising for longer than 90 minutes was shown to be less effective, with longer sessions of three hours or more actually associated with higher mental-health issues, possibly a knock-on effect of the high stress loads and hormonal demands of these long bouts of exercise.
Exercising three to five times a week was shown to be the optimal frequency. The intensity of exercise also mattered, with more-vigorous exercise associated with better mental health. Exercise science has long demonstrated that short, intense exercise is positively associated with surges in dopamine output and other of the so-called ‘feel good’ brain chemicals like epinephrine and norepinephrine. Good for the brain, good for the body.
Call to action
Mental health is placing an increasing burden on Irish individuals and society, with an estimated 20 percent of the Irish population suffering from a mental-health disorder. This statistic is an urgent call to action. Engaging in physical movement doesn’t require any new knowledge, fancy equipment or new skills. The power is very much in our hands.
Health and wellness providers have a responsibility to make this message more prominent. Ultimately, we each have it within ourselves to change our lives and improve our mental health. In the immortal words of Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t … you’re right!’.
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.