Correlation Between Lack of Exercise and ‘Bad Days’

A new study has revealed that exercise reduces the number of days people experience poor mental health per month vs those that do not exercise. The study suggests those that exercise experience 1.5 fewer ‘bad days’ per month.

Woman standing on tennis court set to Exercise

The Study

The study, conducted by a team at Yale University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, as well as the University of Oxford, made it the largest observational study on the subject. It evaluated the influence of exercise type, frequency, duration, and intensity on mental health for more than 1.2 million people in the U.S.

Participants in the study filled out surveys in 2011, 2013, and 2015, where they answered questions on exercise behaviours, and their physical and mental health, logging how many days would be rated as ‘not good’ based on emotional problems, stress, or depression. Although the study was comprehensive, it did not take other mental health disorders aside from depression into account.

The range of exercises included in the study was extensive – over 75 exercises were included, from childcare, housework, mowing the lawn, fishing, cycling, to running and winter sports. The researchers also factored in age, gender, and previous diagnoses of depression.

The study found that, on average, participants experienced 3.4 days of poor mental health per month. Those with exercise, however, reported only 2 days of poor mental health per month, a 43.2 percent reduction.

“Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level,” said study co-author Dr. Adam Chekroud.

“Excitingly, the specifics of the regime, like the type, duration, and frequency, played an important role in this association.”

Not Just Weightlifting

Although the types of exercise show varying degrees of difficulty, all training types were shown to improve mental health. The largest improvements were seen when people participated in team sports (22.3 percent reduction), cycling (21.6 percent), and gym activities and aerobics (20.1 percent).

“Our finding that team sports are associated with the lowest mental health burden may indicate that social activities promote resilience and reduce depression by reducing social withdrawal and isolation, giving social sports an edge over other kinds,” explained Dr. Chekroud.

How much is too much?

Is there a point where exercise is overkill, however? The study results showed that those who exercised for 45 minutes, three to five times per week, had better mental health than those who exercised either less or more each week.

Those who exercised for 45 minutes, three to five times a week, had better mental health than those who exercised less or more each week.

“Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90 minute sessions is associated with worse mental health.”


Do the findings in this study change your perspective on how much/little you’re working out? Personally, my workouts are often slightly over 1 hour, where I typically go 4-5 times per week, and it feels like I could use a dose of moderation based on these findings.


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