The Benefits of Movement on Mental Health

By Lianne E. Jacobs, MPH
Women smiling while being active with weights outdoors to benefit mental health - Vitality

Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling down or stressed, moving your body helps to elevate your mood?  From a brisk walk around the neighborhood to an intense strength training session, many of us rely on breaking a sweat to help get us out a funk.  This mind-body connection isn’t just in your head.  Regular physical activity has been shown to improve mood, depression, anxiety, sleep and cognition.

While the link between physical health and mental health is well-established, new research sought to examine the relationship between amount of physical activity and mental health, specifically depression.  Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the systematic review and meta-analysis of nearly 200,000 individuals across 15 studies found an inverse dose-response association between physical activity and depression, meaning that adults who reported higher levels of physical activity had lower levels of depression.

The study found that adults who exercised the equivalent of 2.5 hours of brisk walking per week had a 25% lower risk of depression.  Adults who exercised half that amount had an 18% lower risk of depression.  As other studies have showed, any level of physical activity is better than none.  This research serves as another example of such findings, with substantial mental health benefits observed even at moderate levels of physical activity.

With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to a close, it’s important to remember how to take care of your mental health.  In addition to reviewing Vitality’s mental health resources, lace up your sneakers this weekend and get moving.  Your mind – and body – will thank you!

Lianne E. Jacobs, MPH, Health Communications Strategist, has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University.  She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike.  She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, changing diapers, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.

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