When we exercise it seems to us, from experience, that we mostly focus on the physical benefits. If we do think about the mental benefits we generally say it’s de-stressing or relaxing, but that’s about it. There are plenty of scientific studies on the impact of exercise on mood, and generally they agree with these beliefs. There are also some more interesting studies out there that give evidence for other benefits – prevention / treatment of mental disorders, prevention of falls in older adults, prevention of bone diseases and associated complications (osteoporosis) and loss of ‘lean mass’ (muscle). All of these are key to whole body health and to you living as long and as happy as you can.
This study compares level of exercise in older adults to the occurrence of depression.
“Conclusion: These findings suggest that promoting physical activity, even light-intensity physical activity, may have positive mental health effects among older adults. Future prospective and experimental studies are warranted.”
This study compares level of activity to health of bones and muscles as we age.
“Conclusion: Although this result might not be generalizable across all exercise types and cohorts, it indicates that an overall exercise frequency of at least 2 sessions per week may be crucial for impacting bone and muscle mass of for elderly subjects.”
This study focuses on the younger generation and their mental health compared to levels of physical activity.
“Conclusion: Regular physical activity is associated with a substantially reduced risk for some, but not all, mental disorders and also seems to reduce the degree of co-morbidity. Further examination of the evidently complex mechanisms and pathways underlying these associations might reveal promising new research targets and procedures for targeted prevention.”
To translate this into something useful for the general public these studies are but a sample of those available, with generally the same outcome. Evidence is growing and growing that exercise has huge benefits (either preventative or treatment wise) on our mental health at all ages. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be intense exercise 5 times a week. Even moderate exercise 2 times a week shows improvements.
Our advice – do some sort of exercise at least twice a week at moderate intensity to help keep your brain and nervous system working well. If you want to keep your body working well too then we’d suggest specific exercises aimed at bone health, muscle health, co-ordination, balance, joint care and proprioception. Don’t just pound the pavement, treadmill or push your body to the limit each time. You need to look after the other aspects of your health at the same time!