Everyone on social media has seen the memes claiming that exercise is better than drugs when it comes to mental health. While this is not strictly true, there is some merit to the premise. Exercise does help to alleviate some forms of mental problems. Now, a new study conducted with Yale University and published in Lancet Psychiatry on Wednesday delves further into the mechanics of how and why this works — and when exercise stops being a salve for mental health.
According to the study, it takes only two hours of physical activity a week to show an improvement in mental health.
One of the study’s co-authors, Adam Chekroud, who is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, revealed that this means using exercise to benefit your own mental health is easily within the reach of many people.
“One of the nice things is the accessibility of this,” he said. “It seems like some of the benefits are pretty in reach for most people.”
According to Time, the study “analyzed data provided by more than 1.2 million U.S. adults who responded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey between 2011 and 2015.” The people who were surveyed were asked questions pertaining to “exercise regimens, lifestyle habits, health histories and the number of days per month they experienced poor mental health.”
From the study, it was revealed, on average, people suffered from 3.36 days of poor mental health each month. However, for those that exercised regularly, the amount of poor mental health days dropped to around 1.5 days per month.
The key to using exercise to assist in mental health well-being is to exercise for approximately 45 minutes per session. Of those surveyed, people who engaged in moderate amounts of exercise fared better, mentally, than those who engaged in “marathon” or prolonged exercise sessions.
In addition, it was discovered that of those who exercised three to five times a week did considerably better than those who exercised more than five times a week — or didn’t exercise at all.
Chekroud suggests that the reason too much exercise may be less beneficial to mental health is based on an assumption that those who exercised excessively were potentially suffering from more than mild mental health issues.
“Some people get obsessed with exercise, and some people run themselves into the ground. You can definitely see why someone who’s exercising a lot, or maybe obsessively, might have worse mental health.”
As the BBC points out, this new study helps to back up government guidelines that recommend people should do “150 minutes of physical activity per week.” They also suggest that the study has some flaws thanks to the fact the study relied on “self-reporting” for the data.