Exercise and Mental Health

October 20 2021

“If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat” – UK Chief Medical Officers Report

1 in 4 people in England experience a mental health issue in the UK each year, and 1 in 6 report a mental health problem like depression or anxiety in England during any given week according to the mental health charity mind.

Depression can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, lack of enjoyment in life and disruption to sleep, concentration, energy levels and appetite.

If you are experiencing mental health issues you should always contact a health professional like your GP first.

In a recent study of 1.2 millions people, it was found that people who exercised had 43% fewer poor days of mental health per month than those who didn’t exercise . The researchers found the sweet spot for the optimal effect on mental health was 45 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week. The people who benefitted the most, were those who had already been diagnosed with depression.

But what type of exercise is best?...

The answer is everything and anything! Activities with the biggest impact were team sports, cycling, aerobic exercise and gym exercise. However, it was found that all types of exercise were beneficial, with even doing housework resulting in less poor mental health days. The most important thing is to get moving in some fashion, it could be a walk around the park, a swim or some yoga.

The Cochrane Review, which gathers evidence from studies throughout the world relating to health and medical interventions has look at exercises and depression in detail. They state that exercise may be effective for several reasons 1) a distraction from negative thoughts, 2) the mastering of a new skill 3) social aspects of meeting other people in a class, gym or taking part in a sport 4) Releasing of ‘feel good’ endorphins and reduction in stress hormones like cortisol.

They have shown a moderate clinical effect of exercise on depression, and the more sessions a person takes part in the more of an effect it has. What’s more aerobic plus resistance training seems to be more effective than aerobic exercise alone. A recent study has shown that resistance exercises can significantly reduce depressive symptoms in adults.

Some novel types of exercise like cold water swimming have been shown to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. And open water swimming has increased in popularity in the last year. However, don’t jump straight into open water, our pools are open for swim lessons and lifeguarded supervised sessions. Afterall cold water is not for everyone!

The take home message is exercise can help with depression, anxiety and sleep disorders as well as the range of physical benefits it has.

Find the exercise that works for you, whether it be swimming, a Zumba class, bodypump, yoga or a weights session in the gym.

Written by
Steven Collins
Area Fitness Manager

Steve has an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience and is qualified in exercise/GP referral.