There's a reason it's called a runner's high: you get a rush of feel-good endorphins after a particularly tough sweat sesh, whether that's a run around the neighbourhood, killing it in the weight room, or a high-intensity spin class. But now, a new study — the largest of its kind in the US — says that regular exercise can boost mental health, decreasing the number of days a month you feel depressed.
The study, which analysed data from 1.2 million US people aged 18 and older found that those who exercised regularly had had fewer days of poor mental health than those who didn't. Those taking part in the study experienced an average of 3.4 days of poor mental health each month, but the people who were active only reported two days of poor mental health. For people who had been diagnosed with depression, the improvement was even greater: seven days of poor mental health for the exercisers compared to 11 days for those who didn't exercise.
However, the study found that more exercise isn't always better; the sweet spot was 30-60 minutes every other day, or about 45 minutes three to five days a week. The most positive associations were also seen in groups who participated in popular team sports, cycling, and aerobic and gym activities.
Although exercise provides a huge mental health benefit, this study can't confirm that physical activity was the cause of improved mental health in the study's participants. Depression and other mental illness should be treated by your doctor or other mental healthcare provider, who can recommend an exact course of treatment. Working out may help, but it's not necessarily a replacement for medication, therapy, and other lifestyle factors.