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Team Sports and Aerobic Exercise Shown To Be Most Effective At Improving Mental Health

October 22, 2018


Exercise remains one of the most underutilized treatments for mental health disorders.  The treatment effects of aerobic exercise have been shown to match or beat the effects of common pharmaceutical treatments for some mental health diagnoses.  Previous research has shown even brief bouts of aerobic exercise can be helpful for our mental health, which may remove some of the barriers to implementing this effective treatment intervention.  Exercise may also have a protective effect as active individuals have significantly less risk for developing disorders such as depression and anxiety compared to their sedentary peers    It is important to note patients suffering from these diagnoses should be under the care of a mental health professional for the most optimal treatment approach, which may include exercise interventions.  A new study highlights what forms of exercise may be most effective for improving mental health symptoms. 

In the journal Lancet authors performed a cross sectional study of 1.2 million adults to compare the number of days of poor self reported mental health between participants who did or did not participate in an exercise program (Chekroud et al. 2018).   Authors balanced the two groups on potential confounders including age, race, sex, income, education level, and previous mental health diagnoses.  The authors found individuals who exercised reported 43% fewer days of poor mental health compared to their sedentary peers.  Interestingly, all exercise types (aerobic, strength, group fitness) were associated with better self reported mental health compared to not exercising, but some forms of exercise were most effective.  Authors reported team sports, cycling, aerobic exercise, and gym activities had the strongest association with improved mental health.  In addition, exercising up to 45 minutes a session, 3-5 times a week, showed the strongest association with improved self-reported mental health.