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Exercise and Mental Health

Introduction

Exercise is one of the foundational behaviors in the doTERRA Wellness Lifestyle Pyramid. Making regular physical activity a part of your daily life is associated with decreased risk for all-cause mortality and chronic disease; however, its link to mental health is less clear. A study recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry provides evidence that taking time to strengthen your body may be one of the most important practices to develop psychological resilience.

Methods

To investigate the association between exercise and mental health, researchers analyzed data collected from over 1.2 million adults who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System surveys of 2011, 2013, and 20151. Along with a questionnaire regarding physical activity behaviors, the surveys included questions to determine how many days per month participants experienced high levels of stress, depression, or related emotional concerns (categorized as “poor mental health days”). Participants were separated into two groups—those who reported that they exercised on a regular basis and those who did not—and then the data was analyzed to isolate how varying degrees of exercise frequency, intensity, and modalities influenced the number of self-reported poor mental health days. Although the observational, cross-sectional analysis of self-reported measures may limit the impact of the data, adjustments were made to control for various sociodemographic factors (age, gender, income, and education levels), basal mass index (BMI), and previous diagnosis of depression.

Results

Overall, participants averaged 3.4 poor mental health days per month, but those who reported that they regularly exercised had 43.2 percent fewer poor mental health days than those who matched their sociodemographic factors but reported a sedentary lifestyle. Furthermore, the effect was even greater for those who had been previously diagnosed with depression, as regular exercise resulted in a 34.5 percent decrease in poor mental health days in the past month. Although all forms of exercise were statistically associated with a decreased incidence of poor mental health days, there were significant variances based upon regularity, duration, and mode of exercise. Those who reported that they exercised three to five days a week averaged 2.3 less mental health days than those who exercised two or less. But the data does suggest that more exercise isn’t necessarily better. More than 23 days per month of focused exercise and regularly performing long bouts of exercise (90+ minutes per day) were both negatively associated with mental health. Furthermore, those who participated in team sports or group exercising reported the least amount of poor mental health days, providing further evidence that social interaction is an important component of mental health.

Conclusion

While the observational and self-reported format of this study makes it difficult to make definitive conclusions, it does provide further confirmation that there is a close relationship between regular physical activity and mental health. But it is important to remember the adage: “Moderation in all things.” Extreme amounts of exercise can make it difficult to recover, physically and psychologically. How often, how long, and how to exercise can be confusing, but what is most important is simply making physical activity an element of your daily life. And for the greatest mental health promoting experience, invite a few friends.

Bibliography

doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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