Mental health is rightly being given more recognition nowadays and the stigma attached to it is hopefully decreasing. However, it goes without saying that it’s still a huge issue that troubles many within society.
Whilst I can’t comment on very serious matters such as clinical depression and chronic anxiety (I am after all a running coach, not a doctor or expert in mental health) I have been wondering what effects running and exercise in general can have on an individual’s mood. I’ve spoken to countless runners over the years who’ve said things such as ‘if I don’t run regularly, I know I’m going to feel down’ or ‘if I stop training, I’ll have less energy and that’ll negatively affect my mood’. As I mentioned earlier in the year, I was on the sidelines for a while due to injury, and I certainly felt worse in myself and my family can testify that I had more than one cranky moment!
Is there an actual relationship between exercise and mental health?
It’s commonly stated that physical activity is able to relieve stress, improve memory, aid sleep and so on, but does scientific research agree that a positive relationship between exercise and mental health exists, and has much work been carried out in this area? In a word, yes.
A study published in the US in 2018 analysed data from over 1.2 million people, a huge sample size. It compared the number of days of poor self-reported mental health between individuals who exercised and those who didn’t. The two groups were balanced evenly in terms of age, race, gender, marital status, income, education level, body-mass index category, self-reported physical health and previous diagnosis of depression. The research found that ‘individuals who exercised had 1.49 (43.2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise’ and ‘all exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden’. To find out more about this study, click here.
Similar research was carried out in Ireland in 2018. When comparing a group who performed no physical activity with a group who met recommended physical activity requirements, it was found that ‘those performing no physical activity were three times less likely to report positive mental health and three times more likely to report negative mental health’. For more information on this study, click here.
Could you benefit from a little more activity?
It’s a relationship that has been investigated hundreds of times over the years and the evidence is very conclusive. Physical activity, be it running or gym training, both reduces negative emotions and increases positive self image and feelings of self worth. Whilst I’m not in a position to comment on anyone’s personal situation, if you’re not feeling yourself at the moment, perhaps ask yourself, have I been getting out for enough runs recently? Or can I carve out a bit of time to get to the gym more? It could be a small change that positively effects your life.
Chekroud, S. R., Gueorguieva, R., Zheutlin, A. B., Paulus, M., Krumholz, H. M., Krystal, J. H., & Chekroud, A. M. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1· 2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(9), 739-746.
Bowe, A. K., Owens, M., Codd, M. B., Lawlor, B. A., & Glynn, R. W. (2018). Physical activity and mental health in an Irish population. Irish Journal of Medical Science (1971-), 188(2), 625-631.