A study at the Teachers College of Columbia University found that people who exercise 2.5 to 7.5 hours a week have better mental health than those who exercise less than that or not at all. However, they also found that after 7.5 hours of exercise per week, symptoms of depression and anxiety increased sharply.

This is the first study of its kind to reveal that too much exercise is correlated with poor mental health, so it’s difficult to conclude what that means exactly. It could be that there is an inverse relationship between lots of exercise and poor mental health – meaning that people who are already depressed and anxious tend to spend more time exercising. Or it could be that high levels of physical activity cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. Currently, there is not a conclusive cause-and-effect relationship.

However, researchers say their findings support the “the notion that regular activity may lead to prevention of mental health disorders.” This could have huge implications for the promotion of regular exercise as a public health initiative.

The CDC, in their physical activity guidelines, suggest that adults between ages 18 and 64 should have at least:

  1. 5 hours (300 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) each week of vigrous-intensity aerobic activity and,
  2. muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
A study in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine found that,
“Generally, participants engaging in regular physical activity display more desirable health outcomes across a variety of physical conditions. Similarly, participants in randomized clinical trials of physical-activity interventions show better health outcomes, including better general and health-related quality of life, better functional capacity and better mood states.”

Across the board, clinical and behavioral studies are proving that regular physical activity not only improves personal physical health indicators, but that it has a significant positive impact on mood and mental health. Following the prescribed physical activity recommendations of the CDC or of your doctor will improve your quality of life, and in some cases, prolong your lifespan.

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