For Good Mental Health: Exercise! (But…Not Too Much?)

A study came out in the September online issue of Preventive Medicine showing that 2.5 to 7.5 hours of exercise each week is good for your mental health. No surprises there, right? But, in the study population (of over 7,500 adults), people who exercised more than 7.5 hours a week had dramatic increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Shocked? I know I am.

We always recommend exercise as a healthy, non-pharmaceutical way of improving mental health and relieving stress. But this is the first study to suggest that you can overdo it. That it’s not a simple dose-response relationship, that there may be an optimal amount of exercise for mental health.

Right off the bat, one possible explanation for this finding: people who are already feeling stressed/depressed/anxious may be more likely to exercise a lot, in effort to control their symptoms. After all, this study only found an association between more than 7.5 hours of exercise and poor mental health, not a causative relationship. But…it has to be said, it’s also possible that exercising that much causes a strain on your mental health. (I know it would for me–who the heck has the time for that much exercise, anyway?)

This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You are not off the hook when it comes to exercise.

But it is fascinating, nonetheless. And I, for one, am looking forward to subsequent research that will hopefully sort this out, and tell us whether it really is bad for our mental health to exercise too much.

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2 Comments on “For Good Mental Health: Exercise! (But…Not Too Much?)

  1. As someone who uses exercise as a stress release, to combat mental fatigue and so on, I can tell you I “buy” this 100%. For me, intense weight training for over 6 hours a week definitely leads to feeling “flat”, a bit depressed, and so on. I atttribute this to over-training, increased cortisol and so on. There is definitely a line where exercise no longer provides any benefit as far as stress-release goes. But the good news is that most of us are not going to get anywhere near to that line. 🙂

    • Thanks for weighing in on this, Paul, great to have your perspective! And yes, “overexercising” is not something most of us mortals have to worry about 😉

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