How to Improve Mental Health With Exercise

Updated on January 12, 2019
Darleen Barnard profile image

Darleen Barnard is Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who specializes in weight loss by using the power of the mind.

Active People Are 45% Less Likely to Have Depressive Symptoms

When we think of exercise, we are usually focused on the physical benefits of exercise. However, studies have shown that the mental benefits of exercise are just as impressive. Studies have found that active people are 45% less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than inactive people. But what types of exercise are most beneficial for mental health? And are there recommended guidelines to follow in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity?

In a study conducted by Chekroud et. al. in the United States, data was used from the Centers for Disease Control in 2011, 2013, and 2015. 1.2 million adults were asked, “Has a doctor, nurse, or other health professional EVER told you that you have a depressive disorder, including depression, major depression, dysthymia, or minor depression?”

Respondents who answered “yes” were then asked a series of follow-up questions that assessed how many days in the past 30 days they had symptoms as well as how many days they exercised, what types of exercises they did, and how long they exercised.

Study Results

Seventy-five different exercises were identified which were categorized into 8 groups including: walking, popular sports, cycling, aerobic or gym workouts, running/jogging, recreational, household chores, and winter or water sports.

The findings of the study were as follows:

1. 43.2% of respondents reported fewer mental health burdens than non-exercisers —which was consistent with previous studies.

2. Type: All types of exercise improved mental health. The strongest correlations were found in:

  • Popular sports
  • Cycling
  • Aerobic or gym workouts
  • Note: Mindful exercises such as yoga and tai chi were explored after the main study and was found to have an even stronger correlation than the first three.

3. Duration: Sessions lasting 45 minutes correlated with the best results, with sessions lasting between 30 and 60 minutes in the optimal range.

  • Sessions lasting longer than 90 minutes were less effective.
  • Sessions lasting longer than 3 hours had negative results and were associate with greater mental health burdens.

4. Intensity: Vigorous exercise was correlated with better mental health outcomes compared to light and moderate exercise.

5. Frequency: Exercising between 3 to 5 times per week was identified as the optimal range and was consistent across all types, duration, and intensity.

Developing Your Own Workout Routine

This study is the largest cross-sectional study to look at the effects of exercise on mental health.

When developing your own workout routine, the big takeaways here are:

  • All types of exercise are beneficial
  • Shoot for 45 minutes per session
  • High intensity is best
  • 3-5 weeks

If remembering the physical benefits of exercise are not enough to get you moving, consider these mental benefits to improve motivation. Happy exercising!


Do you notice an improvement in mental health after you exercise?

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  • Kravitz, L. (2019). Exercise is Good for Mental Health. IDEA Health & Fitness, Fitness Journal, p.12-14.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Darleen Barnard


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    • Darleen Barnard profile imageAUTHOR

      Darleen Barnard 

      17 months ago from Henderson, NV

      Thanks so much Leiah! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • Leiahm profile image

      Leiah Watkins 

      17 months ago

      Great article! love the information...its empowering. Thanks :)


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