While it’s pretty widely known that exercise is a great way to cope with mental illness and improve our mental health overall, researchers now suggest that team sports might do an even better job of this.

The study from the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, examined surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where they assessed the mental health among 1.2 million adults. They discovered that across age, gender, education status, and income, people who exercised had fewer ‘bad’ mental health days vs those that didn’t exercise as frequently. Specifically, people who played team sports had the fewest bad days of all.

basketball team

“Some sports might just be hitting on more of those [mental health] elements than other sports,” said Adam Chekroud, an assistant adjunct professor at Yale’s School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors. “If you just run on a treadmill for example, it’s clear that you’re getting that biological stimulation. But perhaps there are other elements of depression that you’re not going to be tapping into.”

That other element of depression that you’re deprived of in solo workouts is social. Going for a run might affect the cognitive and biological aspects of your condition, but the individual nature of it excludes the social impact group exercise, or team sports, might have.

Exercising with a group is also shown to significantly reduce your stress levels, according to a study done last year from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. Researchers found that group exercisers experienced an improved mental state and saw their stress reduced by 26 percent.

An easy way to make group exercise work for you is making a gym date with a friend. Holding yourself accountable for the workout by including a friend makes it far tougher to bail last minute. Other options include run groups, and for those not affiliated in a team sport, you can always sign up individually and get oriented in a team setting that way.

workout with a friend

It’s also good to proactively take these steps vs do them out of necessity when you’re in a bout of depression or stress. Get started with these habits early while you’re in a better mindset to better look after yourself if anything slips. That way, if or when a dark period does come along, you’ll already be in the routine of sweating it out with a friend or playing a sport amongst teammates, and it won’t seem as challenging to stick with it.

Remember that mental illnesses require many tools in order to navigate the condition. Some are more clinical, some are more natural, and others can involve a band of teammates — and thankfully, that one can be pretty fun.

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