Massive study confirms link between mental health and exercise

Helena Grech - 15th July 2019

A total of 1.2 million participated in the study which shows that exercise could have a bigger impact on mental health than education and wealth.

Researchers from Yale and Oxford have confirmed what many have known to be true for years – exercise is good for mental health.

The study is unprecedented in scope, with a staggering 1.2 million people, aged 18 and upwards, having participated.

Scientists found that those who exercised regularly tended to register negative mental health days for around 18 days per year, whereas those who failed to exercise registered feeling bad for roughly 35 days more.

Interestingly, the team noted that certain physical activity had a stronger impact on positive mental health, such as those involving socialising. Fitness classes and team sports for example, were found to have the largest positive effect on an individual’s mental health.

The study was published in the Lancet Psychiatry with participants coming from America. It covered three years’ worth of data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioural Risk Factors Surveillance.

Participants were asked about their mental health history, their current well-being, and their exercise habits.

The study has been credited for taking a broad interpretation of what constitutes as exercise, allowing people to choose from 75 different types. It incorporated more traditional forms of exercise such as football and yoga, to less traditional though still valid forms such as shovelling snow, vacuuming and other physically demanding chores.

In certain instances, it found that exercise could have a bigger impact on overall mental health than levels of education or wealth:
“Differences as a function of exercise were large relative to other demographic variables such as education and income.”


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