Doctors urge their patients to exercise more and discuss the overall health benefits. Exercise helps the heart and cardiovascular system. It allows the lungs to work more efficiently. More oxygen in the blood contributes to better brain health. Regular exercise reduces the risk of death and illness from cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and many other conditions.
In addition, regular exercise benefits mental health. According to researchers from Oxford University and Yale University, in an article published in The Lancet Psychiatry, exercise substantially affects mental health more than money.
The article “Association Between Physical Exercise and Mental Health in 1.2 Million, Individuals in the USA Between 2011 and 2015: A Cross-Sectional Study” was written by Chekroud, Gueorguieva, Zhuetlin, and others. Dr. Adam Chekroud at Yale University School of Medicine and others examined data from major Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys.
Over 1.2 million adults responded to these surveys about general health habits, health risks, and other parameters, including age, gender, marital status, average income, and health status, including mental health diagnoses such as depression. The authors used complex statistical methods to pair similar individuals and compared both groups’ self-reported bad mental health days.
They concluded that those who exercised had over 40% fewer days of poor mental health than those who did not. Only those who exercise regularly 3-5 days a week have the most vital relationship. Exercising more than five days a week did not increase mental health in this sample. More exercise was not necessarily better, but regular exercise greatly benefited mental health.
Most surprisingly, physical activity substantially affected mental health more than any other variable, including money and education level. Generally, people with more money and a higher status are happier overall. The effect of regular physical exercise on mental health appears to be even more potent than the effect of the economic situation on mental health.
Types of exercise were also compared. The most substantial effect was from popular team sports (22.3 % on average), cycling (21.6% on average), and aerobic and gym activities (20.1% ). In other words, the type of activity does not matter to mental health if the exercise is regular.
The researchers concluded that the results of the cross-sectional study pointed out some directions for further research. For example, do people with good mental health exercise more in general because they feel better physically and emotionally, so they can choose to take part in physical activities? Also, people who have more discretionary money have more money to spend on leisure-time activities, including gym memberships, exercise equipment, vacation destinations, and the like.