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Researchers from Yale and Oxford, whose findings were published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, found that exercising on a regular basis can lead to greater happiness, moreso than greater wealth.
Individuals who exercised on a regular basis had 18 fewer “poor mental health days” per year compared to those who did not exercise, researchers found. In fact, those who partake in physical exercise felt just as good as non-active individuals who earn $25,000 more on an annual basis, MDLinx reported.
“The difference in mental health burden between individuals who participated in popular (team-based) sports versus those who do not exercise was approximately the same as the difference in mental health burden between individuals … with a difference in household income of more than U.S. $25,000,” according to the study, which was led by Sammi R. Chekroud, Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Exercise has long been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, but researchers noted that there has been little research to asses its correlation to mental health.
“Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and there is an urgent need to find ways to improve mental health through population health campaigns.”
To investigate this association, researchers analyzed data gathered from over 1.2 million adults across the nation who completed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System survey in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The analysis is considered the largest observational study of its kind published in the journal.
Participants were asked the following question: “Now thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?” In addition, participants were also asked if they engaged in physical activity and what activity they participated in, MDLinx reported.
Active individuals reported having roughly 1.5 or 43 percent fewer bad mental health days during the 30 days compared to non-exercisers which correlates to roughly 18 days per year.
All types of physical activity, from childcare, housework, lawn-mowing and fishing to cycling, going to the gym, running and skiing were associated with a lower mental health burden. However, team sports are associated with the largest reduction — about 22.3 percent. Other activities associated with large reductions include cycling, 21 percent, as well as aerobics and going to the gym, 20 percent.
Researchers noted that more exercise was not necessarily always better. The findings suggest that exercising 45 minutes three to five times per week was associated with the greatest benefits.