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What is the optimal dose of sport for mental health?

 What is the optimal dose of sport for mental health?

What is the optimal dose of sport for mental health?

There is no doubt that exercise does wonders for mental well-being. But how much exercise is appropriate, how often, and what type of exercise should be done? A group of experts recently reviewed 1,444 studies on the role of exercise in mental health. Here's what they found  

Yes, exercise has a significant impact on mental health

Better mental and emotional well-being, less stress, better morale, a better quality of life, fewer depressive symptoms, and less anxiety... These are just some of the benefits of sport for mental health.  

A large number of scientific studies show that physical activity is good for mental health. In fact, 89% of all relevant research published between 1990 and 2020 showed a positive and statistically significant relationship between physical activity and mental health.  

It appears that sport improves mental health through biological pathways, such as increasing neurotransmitters in the brain and improving hormone function. Exercise may play a protective role in reducing the risk of mental illness and promoting long-term psychological well-being. 

The ideal exercise for your mental well-being 

Studies show that high-intensity exercise is often more effective than low-intensity exercise. In particular, cardiovascular training significantly reduces depression and has a moderate but reliable effect on anxiety disorders. For an optimal exercise program, try alternating strength training with cardiovascular training, as this combination has been shown to have greater mental health benefits than either one alone.  

If you prefer low-intensity exercise, keep in mind that mindfulness-based activities such as yoga and tai chi, which help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, are likely to have greater mental health benefits than walking. If possible, do the session in a group. Research shows that people who engage in group sports, cycling, and aerobic or cardiovascular exercise report 20% fewer days of poor mental health per month. 

The right amount and frequency of sport 

Not surprisingly, frequent exercise, three to five times a week, is more likely to reduce depressive symptoms than exercise once a week. However, more exercise is not always better. Experts have identified a U-shaped curve showing worse mental health in those who exercise less than three times a week and those who exercise more than five times a week. 

Is there an optimal dose? Yes, three to five times per week 30-45 minutes of exercise seems to be ideal. However, experts point out that there is no perfect method and more research is needed on the frequency, intensity, type, and duration of exercise to develop a more solid, data-driven prescription.  

The need for mental health is greater than ever in the world

The need for mental health interventions has never been greater. According to the World Health Organization, 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, which is one of the leading causes of disability in the world. Eighteen percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from mental illness. And Covid has compounded the problem. According to the American Psychological Association's March 2022 Stress in America study, Covid has had a significant impact on people's mental health: 58% of Americans report feeling stressed every day because of the pandemic.  

The lives of people with mental illness can be shortened by a decade: a 2015 meta-analysis found that people with mental illness lose an average of 10 years of their lives. The same analysis showed that 14.3% of deaths can be attributed to mental disorders or about eight million deaths per year.  

Scientific sources for this article

The information in this article is drawn from the Move Your Mental Health report, which summarizes 30 years of published scientific evidence on the relationship between physical activity and mental health. Based on the results of 1,444 studies, this report is designed to help people take an evidence-based approach to maintaining their mental health through physical activity


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