We all know that, in addition to burning calories and keeping you fit, exercise has some serious benefits for both the body and the mind. A moderate amount of exercise can help you retain muscle mass, boost your immune system, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, increase your energy levels, improve brain function and memory skills, enhance your sex drive, help you sleep, and lengthen your life overall. Some studies have indicated that people who work out regularly even make more money than those who don’t.
But anyone who’s ever done a 30-minute cardio session knows that exercise can also significantly boost your mood. In fact, Laurie Santos, a Yale professor who teaches the university’s popular “Happiness Course,” said that “just exercising three times a week, for 30 minutes a day can give you as much happiness bang for your buck as taking an SSRI or taking something like Zoloft.”
Now, a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal has identified just how many were happy days you can expect to gain from hitting the gym. Researchers analyzed responses from 1.2 million adults in the United States taken from a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey and found that those who exercise reported only 1.5 days of “bad mental health” over the last month, which is 43 percent fewer days than people who do not exercise.
As always, moderation is key. According to the study, the ideal amount of regular exercise consists of 45-minute sessions three to five times a week. Doing more than 90 minutes in a session was not associated with greater rewards, and going past 3 hours actually resulted in worse mental health than those who did not exercise at all.
Additionally, when it comes to your happiness levels, not all exercise is created equal. The study found that the biggest boost to mental health was team sports, followed by cycling, with the gym coming in at third place. This isn’t entirely surprising, given that the added camaraderie and social benefit of a great game of soccer with friends can go a long way in lifting your spirits.
And if you really want to give your body and mind an added boost, consider exercising outside, given that recent studies have found that spending time outdoors has significant mental health benefits, and sweating it out in moderate heat can even help you burn more calories.
And for more on the benefits of working out, check out 7 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Exercise.
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