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Exercise is good for your mental health but only for one point

    Abdulaziz Sobh
    By Abdulaziz Sobh

    Categories: Beauty & Fitness, Health


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    Considering the numerous benefits of exercise ranging from physical fitness and the prevention of chronic diseases to improved mood, it may seem logical that the more you do, the better. But a large new study suggests that this is not always the case, at least when it comes to mental health.

    It is well established that exercise can improve mental health and, potentially, even alleviate or prevent depression. But how much is enough to see a change? The new research, published Wednesday in The Lancet Psychiatry, says that just two hours of any form of exercise each week can have a significant impact.

    "One of the good things is access to this," says study co-author Adam Chekroud, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University. "It seems that some of the benefits are within the reach of most people."

    For the study, the researchers analyzed data provided by more than 1.2 million American adults who responded to the Survey of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2011 and 2015. These People answered questions about their exercise regimens, lifestyle habits, health histories and the number of days per month they experienced poor mental health.

    On average, people reported 3.36 days of poor mental health per month. But those who said they exercised through activities ranging from domestic chores to running experienced about 1.5 fewer somber days per month than sedentary peers, according to the research.

    By delving into the numbers, the researchers noticed an interesting pattern: people who exercised for a moderate time (approximately 45 minutes per session) had better mental health outcomes than those who preferred marathon workouts. Similarly, sweating three to five times a week was associated with a greater reduction in days of poor mental health than either not exercising or going to the gym more than five times a week, according to the research. Taken together, these results led researchers to conclude that exercising two to six hours a week can be the ideal point for mental health.

    The federal guidelines for physical activity, meanwhile, recommend 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, plus strength training sessions twice a week, to reap the health benefits of exercise.

    Chekroud says the new study did not observe why six hours may be the upper limit of mental health gains (or if exercise actually causes the patterns reflected in the data) but speculates that excessive exercise may be indicative of health problems mental.

    "Some people become obsessed with exercise, and some people run to the ground, and you can definitely see why someone who does a lot of exercises, or maybe obsessively, could have worse mental health," he says.

    On the other hand, Chekroud says that people who do not exercise at all can miss the stimulating effects of the mood, which according to him can change the way the brain works.

    "There is a lot of literature that suggests that people who are depressed and who take antidepressants who also exercise usually do better than people who only take antidepressants," he says. "I think something is happening neurobiologically in people with depression that exercise helps."

    Chekroud's study provides some support for that hypothesis. Among people previously diagnosed with depression, who tend to have a poorer than an average number of mental health days, those who exercised had 3.75 fewer mental health days deficient per month than those who did not.

    And while almost any form of physical activity is good for your body and brain, the researchers found that certain types of exercise were associated with mental health benefits slightly more than others. Team sports led the group with a reduction of 22.3% in the mental health load, followed by cycling (21.6%) and aerobic / gym exercises (20.1%). In a separate analysis, Chekroud and his colleagues also discovered that mindfulness exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, provide better mental health benefits than walking and many other types of exercise. These findings are in line with research that says that social support and mindfulness can improve mental health.

    Chekroud, who is also co-founder of mental health startup Spring Health, says he hopes to use this information to develop a platform that can recommend personalized exercise regimens to increase mental health, based on the demographic profile, symptoms, and preferences of a person. person. That service could be available next year, he says.

    But in the meantime, he says the results of the study should be encouraging for anyone looking to make a healthy lifestyle change. "Many people exercise for physical health or weight loss benefits," says Chekroud, "but the concept of exercising for mental health benefits, explicitly, is very exciting."