Exercise and Its Conflicting Relationship with Mental Health

Posted on October 8, 2018

Exercise has consistently shown improvements in physical health in past research, though its relationship with mental health is still uncertain. Existing literature on exercise and mental health are unable to determine whether the amount of activity one engages in is a symptom or contributor to the presence of mental health diagnosis. This is because correlational studies cannot conclude causal relationships even if there is a high correlational relationship.

The present study included data from 1.2 million adults across the United States, assessing them on their physical and mental health statuses and habits. They were asked to rate how often they were stressed, depressed or faced emotion distress in a month. In addition, they also rated their frequency and duration of physical activity in a month.

The results showed that the average participant experienced 3.4 days of poor mental health each month, whereas people who exercised reported 2.0 days of poor mental health. This effect was enhanced when comparing participants who had previously received a depression diagnosis and those who do not exercise – 7.1 days of poor mental health compared to 10.9 days, respectively.

Several types of common physical activity were shown to improve mental health, but the strongest positive correlation occurred for team sports, cycling, aerobic and gym exercise. This effect was a more significant predictor of better mental health than other changeable social or demographic factors, such as education or income. The finding that team sports activity (compared to the other top contenders for improving mental health) showed the greatest boost to mental health status could support existing hypotheses that social activities reduce mental health disorders, such as depression, as they reduce social withdrawal and isolation.

The duration and frequency of exercise was also an important contributor to mental health. People who exercised between 3-5x per week had a better mental health status than people who exercised lesser or more. In addition, exercising for 30-60 minutes had the biggest effect in reducing the number of poor mental health days, and surprisingly, exercising for more than 90 minutes each time showed a steady decline in positive effects, such that participants who exercised for more than 3 hours a day showed worse mental health statuses. The authors surmised that this effect seen for excessive exercise (>3 hours) could be due to existing obsessive characteristics that could contribute to poorer mental health.

In conclusion, with rising rates of physical health disorders and its comorbidity with mental health diagnoses, an intervention aimed at addressing both declining physical and mental health in the current population is of particular interest to the medical profession and looks to be promising in addressing the two prominent issues of our society.

Category(s):Adult psychological development, Self help groups, Self-Care / Self Compassion, Self-Love

Source material from Medial Xpress