Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Researchers from the University of South Australia and MSH Medical School Hamburg in Germany have discovered that moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The study monitored 682 athletes under different conditions and evaluated their levels of anxiety and depression. The results were clear: athletes who exercised at a moderate level for 150 minutes a week, per World Health Organization guidelines, reported better mental health than those who exercised at lower rates. The study also noted that different types of exercise did not necessarily correlate to different levels of mental health benefits. This means that it doesn’t matter if you like to go jogging or if you prefer lifting weights — as long as you’re hitting that 150-minute mark, the likelihood is that you will be a happier person overall.
The benefits of exercise for anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are well-known. Exercise relieves stress, helps you sleep better, and improves your overall mood. Not only that, it’s great for your physical health as well. But those who suffer from a mental health disorder may not know how much exercising can help them, or they may not care. Why spend time working out when you can just take an antidepressant?
Antidepressant medications are notorious for their side effects. Research done by the Harvard Medical School shows that exercise can be as effective as antidepressant drugs but with no side effects. Nonetheless, those who suffer from severe depression may need medication in conjunction with exercise. Dr. Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains: “For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression.”
Some other research shows that even at fewer than 150 minutes a week, those who suffer from an anxiety or depressive disorder can also reap the benefits of exercise. One study found that aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, and walking are the most beneficial toward alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even after one workout session, patients experienced reductions in their symptoms. The study noted that each session should be 15 to 30 minutes and be performed 3 times a week for 10 weeks or longer. The study concluded that the benefits of exercise are even more significant in those with elevated levels of anxiety and depression because they have “more room for possible change.”
If you find that your poor mental health is taking a toll on you, you might want to start exercising. Start out with something you’re comfortable with, such as walking around your neighborhood for a while, and eventually you can progress to something more challenging like jogging. To make it more enjoyable, it may be worth compiling a motivating playlist or calling a friend and working out together.
The bottom line is: any amount of physical activity helps – and the more you get, the more you can benefit.