We know exercise is good for the brain, but the kind of exercise you do and how often can determine its mental health benefit. Hint: More is not necessarily better.
A study that tracked more than one million people over three years found parallels between certain types and frequencies of exercise and mood benefits.
The most important thing the study showed is that any type of exercise is better than none when it comes to helping you feel and function better.
Regular exercise, even just walking or housework, reduced the number of “poor mental health” days in a month by more than 40 percent. However, some forms netted bigger gains than others.
The best ways to exercise to improve your mood
Here is what the study found in terms of types and frequency of exercise for the most improvement in your mental health:
- The forms that have the most impact on mental health include team sports, cycling, and aerobic exercises.
- Yoga, walking, and household chores provide more benefit than doing nothing.
- Running does not show the most benefit to mental health compared to other exercises.
- Team sports show the most mental health benefit, although it’s believed the structure and camaraderie play a role in that. Healthy socialization is very beneficial to mental and physical health.
- Exercising 30 to 60 minutes three to five times a week showed the most benefit. Exercising less or more than that did not.
- Exercising too much not only didn’t improve mental health, it made it worse. Subjects who exercised 23 or more times a month or for longer than 90 minutes fared worse than those who exercised less.
- Exercising 45 minutes is better than exercising too little.
- There is no additional benefit from exercising more than an hour.
- People diagnosed with depression showed greater benefit from regular physical activity than those who were not suffering depression.
Why exercise is good for the brain and your mood
Exercise isn’t just about more stamina and stronger muscles. The human brain was designed for regular physical activity for optimal function.
Exercise, particularly high-intensity intervals, stimulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps with memory, mood, and overall brain function.
Regular exercise makes most people sleep better. (Over exercising can be inflammatory and sabotage sleep.)
Regular exercise adds structure to your life, which people tend to lose when they fall into depression. The structure provides a sense of order and control.
Exercise can put you into a more social environment. Healthy, in-person socialization is vital for good mental health.
Of course, other factors beyond physical activity may be sabotaging your mood and brain health. A functional neurology exam can identify areas of under activity, over activity, or lack of synchronization in your brain. A metabolic issue, such as an inflammatory food or an undiagnosed chronic health disorder, may also be factors. Ask my office for more advice.